On Tuesday night, Mumbai Indians suffered its third consecutive derby loss to Steve Smith’s Rising Pune Supergiant. This one hurt the most. They lost at home at the Wankhede Stadium, and despite finishing the group stages on top, they now find themselves in a do-or-die one-match battle on Friday night.
Their opponents: Gautam Gambhir’s Kolkata Knight Riders. The team knocked out defending champions Sunrisers Hyderabad on Wednesday night at Eden Gardens in a rain-curtailed match. They were definitely expected to win after restricting Hyderabad to 129 in the first innings. Kolkata had finished fourth in the group stages, and avenged their loss at the same eliminator stage to Hyderabad in 2016. David Warner’s men then went on to win two more and the title – the hard way. Gambhir’s men will want to emulate that path to the top.
If there is one team that has the wood on KKR, it’s the Mumbai Indians. Out of the 20 matches they’ve played against each other in the last ten editions, Mumbai has won a whopping 15 of them. Even this year, Mumbai pulled a double over them, extending their impressive Eden Gardens record even further. Between the two teams, however, they’ve won the title four times out of the last five years (Mumbai: 2013, 2015; Kolkata: 2012, 2014).
Surprisingly, this is the first time they’re playing each other in a knockout game.
None of their batsmen except Parthiv Patel fired at the Wankhede, as they failed to chase down Pune’s total of 162 by 22 runs. Rohit Sharma fell to spin again and to a terrible umpiring decision, the Pandyas failed to get going. Young Washington Sundar cleaned up their middle order with some accurate bowling. There was nothing wrong with the team selection for once – they just had a bad day with the bat, and will be hoping that their captain turns it around at the Chinnaswamy. Their best bowler, Mitchell McClenaghan, was walloped by MS Dhoni in the slog overs, though the form of Lasith Malinga augurs well for their most important game of the tournament. Young Nitish Rana wasn’t picked because of Ambati Rayadu, but perhaps the management should trust Rana’s young blood and bring him in on the biggest stage possible. Karn Sharma did a good job in place of Harbhajan Singh, but he must turn into more of a wicket taker if he has to partner Krunal Pandya in the middle overs. Rohit did the right time by coming in at 3, and he should continue doing so on Friday. He is the team’s most experienced batsman along with Kieron Pollard, and both of them should face as many balls as possible.
X-factor: Lendl Simmons
The West Indian just never got going on Tuesday, and was run out in unfortunate circumstances after a bowler deflected onto the stumps. But he has rarely failed when it has mattered for the Mumbai Indians. Fans will primarily remember him for being the wrecker-in-chief of India’s hopes at last year’s World T20 in the semifinals at the Wankhede. This time, he will have to play freely right from the beginning in Bangalore.
Kolkata Knight Riders
Somehow, they need to find a way to reverse the trend against Mumbai. And what a stage it’d be if they do it in a knockout match to reach the final. It’s often the case that the team coming through the eliminator and qualifier invariably ends up winning the whole thing because of that age-old cricket myth: momentum. Sunrisers did it last year, Mumbai did it the year before that. This time, it could well be Gambhir’s team, who’re looking to ride the storm and become the first team ever to win three league titles. They panicked in the 48-run chase against Hyderabad on Wednesday, but their captain played a calm and resourceful hand. He got them across the line after a terrific pace bowling performance by Umesh Yadav and Nathan Coulter-Nile in the first innings. They may want to pick chinaman Kuldeep Yadav on the Bangalore pitch, especially given that Rohit has struggled against spin this year.
X-factor: Chris Lynn
For the first time, he failed this year when he managed only six runs against Hyderabad in the short chase. But he had smashed his first ball for six, and could tear apart the likes of Malinga and McClenaghan if they have another off day. If he gets going, the match could run away faster than Royal Challengers exiting the tournament.
Kolkata are more rounded and aggressive, though Mumbai are a better big-match team. However, it’s hard to look past Kolkata’s batting form. The tables could finally be turned.