Topless: A Batting Revolution

Match# 40: Mumbai Indians v/s Kings XI Punjab

Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai

Form Guide: MI- Win, Win, Loss, Win, Win, Win, Loss,
                       KXIP-Loss, Win, Win, Win, Loss, Loss,
 
One is forced to mention ‘Mumbai’ and ‘Punjab’ in one breath- simply because both these teams are in a similar state of mind after resounding losses to the ‘dark horses’ of the tournament (Rajasthan and Kolkata). That the contenders beat the favorites twice in two games only drives home the notorious unpredictability of this league- much like a new Salman Khan release. 
 
With the most explosive batting line-ups in the league faltering massively (also called the ‘law of averages’), it is not time to panic yet- but it is time to set right some outrageous weak links in the teams. Okay, maybe the Kings XI are in a slightly desperate situation (having played lesser number of games, inexplicably!)- similar to one Kolkata found themselves a few games back. They will need to pick themselves up and face the harsh reality of the situation: If the top 3 batters of this team fail (less than 50), even a combination of Kochi and Pune could stand a good chance (on a good day, on a good pitch, with good luck)
 
As for Mumbai….Well, ditto. 
 
Mumbai Indians: (Finals 2010)
 
After a batting performance that made the Sawai Man Singh pitch in Jaipur seem like a complete minefield (akin to the Kotla), the Indians will be looking to regain more than just pride in this even match-up against a similarly-structured team at home. When Sachin walked off after only his 3rd failure all year, it was easy to expect the young guns Rayadu and Sharma to script another perfectly-timed recovery that would put Keiron Pollard’s current form to shame. One did not possibly expect all the famous MI batsmen to first play themselves in- taking their own sweet time- prime themselves for the inevitable late flourish, and still flounder as a team in a mockery of a T20 batting performance that would have made the 2008 RCB ‘Test team’ proud. 
 
Blue Swan
 
They have still been the most consistent team in the league, but a truly insipid performance against Rajasthan will have made the weaker teams take notice- yes, they are beatable. And yes, they can be humiliated much like every one of them so far. It was their turn to come a massive cropper against a Shilpa Shetty-inspired team (forget the rest), and they will take consolation from the fact that their ‘shame shame’ game has been done away with earlier than later.
 
When Andrew Symonds and Keiron Pollard were at the crease together, the Mumbai fans could not believe their eyes- simply because they did not expect this day to come so soon. Not till the finals atleast- where an inevitable choke waits for them with its neck and arms wide open. Fireworks were expected, social networking sites were abuzz with the hype- until Pollard decided to forsake every ounce of the big-hitting reputation he had ever built up till then- and try his very best to prove the famous Michael Holding’s words correct: ‘Pollard is not a cricketer…he cannot possibly evolve further…’
 
That he must be given more opportunities to bat up the order at the cost of atleast 5 failures every 6 innings- is the price one has to pay to keep faith in the mercurial all-rounder (he used to bowl- till IPL 2011 bought him back down to earth). One feels that he is holding a place in this side only on past reputation (or fielding ability) and immense expectation. 
 
It took him approximately 7 games last year to come into his own and take the IPL by storm with whirlwind innings against Delhi and then Chennai, and Ambani and co. must be desperately hoping that the time frame holds true once again.
 
As for Symonds, he is yet to find a role in this team- and with the top order utilizing most of the overs (to find their way back into their respective national sides), Symonds must be content with the ‘security’ tag that most hard-hitting middle-order batsmen are associated with- much like Yusuf Pathan for the national side and Cameron White for Australia (though he has recently been fired from his coveted position)
 
Much of their batting must fire against an equally-explosive Punjab line-up that will probably be wondering how their team condition can be described any differently from the words written above (for MI).
 
Player to watch out for: Sachin Tendulkar
Single-digit scores do not adorn the demi-God who has just passed on the Orange cap aptly to the young Virat Kohli- not unlike the passing of the baton that will eventually happen when Sachin decides to call it a day. He is due- and by his standards, that could mean nothing less than a quickfire 60 or a mind-numbing age-defying century once again. He has been looking a little hassled on the field- but that can be attributed to the fact that he has been in mourning (for religious reasons) for the past week. That he is not forsaking responsibility and still leading his team onto the field without any complaints- is a sign of the man’s undying commitment to this game from the ripe old age of 16. 
 
That he must bat till the 10th over and then hand over responsibility to the bigger hitters and younger arms- will be topmost on his mind- for he knows his role the best in the team. But there are times when even SACHIN cannot get Tendulkar out…
 
Kings XI Punjab: (Semi finals 2008)
 
When Dinesh Karthik makes his presence felt in a certain team, it would inevitably mean that the current trend (or streak) for the team varies from not-so-good to disastrous. On a confirmed low after a 3-game winning streak, the Kings XI- who are unfortunate victims of a schedule more complicated than D&L- must feel like they are playing ‘catch up’ with every other team in the league- Yes, even Kochi. It is almost like serving second in the final set of a Wimbledon final. The Royals, who were dragged around the country to face every team within 2 days of eachother, must feel infinitely better right now- having seen the flip side of the situation. Punjab, playing a game after a week, were so low on skill and momentum- that they resembled Akshay Kumar before an Anees Bazmee release.
 
With Valthaty and Marsh coming a cropper (for once) against the Knight Riders, there was never going to be a way back for a top-heavy batting order that relied heavily on Piyush Chawla to bowl at less than 8 an over to atleast give them a respectable loss. That did not happen- and hence, the Kings find themselves in the bottom half of the table- with their weakness brutally exposed by the extremely-promising Iqbal Abdullah and consistent Yusuf Pathan (who seems to be a better bowler than his brother right now).
 
New Stance
 
There will be no room for error against a hurting Mumbai team that will be hell-bent on displaying their magic tricks (namely Pollard actually connecting) before an anxious home crowd. 
 
Yes, the group stages may have lost some of its sheen, with most of the teams experiencing the proverbial lull before the storm- but this can only mean that the knockouts will knock the daylights out of the watching audience (especially when they watch a dramatic SRK shed happy tears after his team lose to a ‘better’ team in the semi-final)
 
Player to watch out for: Piyush Chawla
The time has come to name this much-maligned avtaar of the leg-spinner who had actually made a World Cup winning squad for no fault (or success) of his own- as the coveted player to watch out for. For those of you who may read this blog often- please refrain from accusing me of naming every player of every team atleast once in this category. Why? Nobody blames Sachin when he decides to give every player of his team a batting opportunity out of desperation (and cluelessness)- just to spice things up a bit for the opposition teams (who duly beat the jeefer out of them)
 
Oh, did I say Sachin? I meant Gautam Gambhir.
 
Coming back to our boy Chawla, if there was ever a concept such as ‘form’ or ‘dip’ or ‘law of averages’ or ‘spark of brilliance’- the time has come and GONE to prove the existence of these words. Instead, a nice little one-for or a couple of handy 3-run overs could be the need of the hour from this spinner who had once bowled Sachin Tendulkar around his legs. No, not a joke.
 
Prediction: 
 
With the weaker teams inconceivably steam-rolling Mumbai on their happy way out of this league, The Kings XI will fancy their chances against a laid-back (ask Pollard) MI team. But with Sachin and Rayadu due for big ones, this might just mean a WIN for the more consistent and better-balanced team. Gilchrist may need a favour or two from his ex-players Sharma and Symonds, simultaneously. But with both of them already having displayed their generosity to a eager Royals team…
 
Do I really need to spell it out?
 

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