T20-6 QUALIFIER 2: MUMBAI INDIANS V/S RAJASTHAN ROYALS

Eden Gardens, Kolkata
 
Recent form (Last 2 games)
MI- Loss, Loss,
RR- Loss, Win,
 
Recent form rarely counts for the latter stages of an T20 tournament. But for a team like Mumbai Indians– notorious for their South African style tapering off towards the business end of the knockout stages- the group stages have ceased to matter. Suddenly the brouhaha about having a new young captain who has won 90% of games in charge, a young opening pair, bowlers finding their mojo and being the inform team coming into the knockouts- everything is forgotten. They find themselves in a similar situation to the one they were in the 2012 season, and even the 2011 season. Always in the top 3 in the group stages, only once have they gotten through to the final- in 2010- and failed when it mattered. MI were favorites that season, as they were for the next 2. This time, it’s the SuperKings that look invincible right from game 1. After falling to CSK in Qualifier 1 at the Kotla, the only game they’ve lost to CSK all season (the one that mattered of course), they have another chance.
 
 
MI now face a team that looks part of a Hollywood sports epic redemption saga- the Royals- in complete contrast to their fairytale underdog first season. And this, unfortunately for Mumbai, is the last chance to lock swords with (eventual champions, many say) Chennai in the final. Many would bet against that happening.
 
Mumbai Indians
For a team that had lost 3 in its first 6 games, and then only 2 in its next 10- this is a crisis. MI were the only team to pull a double over CSK once again in 2013, and were heavy favorites coming into the knockouts. That final group stage loss to Punjab was overlooked, as they always are, in dead rubbers during any season. But with Mumbai, it’s always been about momentum. Never a team to lose more than 2 games consecutively at a time, the team looked well-set and finally seemed to have got their top order right before that last group game. Young Aditya Tare looked like a better option than Tendulkar at the top too- with Maxwell getting a few hits. But now it’s their bowling that’s letting them down.
 
 
Munaf Patel, who barely played all season, was asked to come back in the crucial game against Chennai in place of the injured Dhawal Kulkarni. Munaf is experienced, but his line and length is as predictable as a CSK onslaught in a final. Malinga has been a shadow of himself all season, and went for 46 runs in which Raina did a Kohli on him. He has never bowled well to India’s younger players, and except for Harbhajan Singh- who never really bowls for wickets- MI were slaughtered and could take no more than a wicket. Tendulkar might come back, not because he is needed at the top, but because the younger players seem to value his presence on the field. He is no longer the batsman that he was in the 2010 T20 season, where one could bank on him to hold up one end and graft a few runs.The only thing that can work in their favour is the presence of two mercurial West Indians in their team- Smith and Pollard. Even Rohit and Karthik have tapered off towards the end.
 
X-factor: Dwayne Smith. Till he was at the crease, MI looked like a different team against Chennai. Once he went, it was all over. West Indians have owned this tournament, and Smith has been no different. Along with Pollard, he could be the key to an improbable win.
 
 
Rajasthan Royals
Having played their last group game against the Sunrisers and even losing to them, they had helped dig their own grave in a way. RCB were knocked out, but the same Sunrisers bowlers were all over them, 13 overs into their innings, while they chased a modest target of 132 in the eliminator only days later. The leg spinners had begun to work their magic, while Darren Sammy was in the zone.
 
If not for the brave and experienced talisman Brad Hodge- easily the face of T20 cricket- the Royals would have been just another team torn apart by controversy and problems. His magical onslaught in the final 6 overs of the Royals innings got them the most important win since winning the tournament 6 years ago- and now, they’re just 2 wins away from scripting the best chapter in T20 history. The best all-rounder in T20 cricket (Watson) continues to lift them up, and 2013’s surprise James Faulkner has kept them in the season.
 
 
18 year old Sanju Samson, India’s next great hope, has shown considerable resolve and poise in the middle order- while Dravid has displayed great passion as their leader, taking over from Shane Warne. He has led the team like it is his last season, and maybe it is. There would be no other way for him to go out- after leading a team ravaged by spot-fixing and distrust. Even the country looks at Dravid’s concerned face on the field and knows that he is the man who wants this the most. They have been given a lifeline by Hodge, and there could be no looking back.
 
X-factor: Shane Watson. It is a big game, and you’d expect the big man to step up. It’ll be down to the foreign players in both teams to demonstrate how pressure is dealt with, and Watson could be the main man after being MVP in their inaugural season. 
 
Prediction: An RR win. MI aren’t known for the strength in these stages, and often succumb to pressure. Unless Rohit pulls out a rabbit from his hat, that is not about to change.

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