Still not assured of a place in the next stage of the ongoing IPL, Mumbai Indians would be hoping to book their berth in the playoffs with a win over out-of-contention Rajasthan Royals in Mumbai on Friday.
Though Mumbai are sitting pretty with 16 points from 12 games, they still need one victory out of their remaining two games to secure their place in the four-team playoffs, and the Sachin Tendulkar-led side would be eager to finish off the job on Friday itself at the Wankhede stadium.
Mumbai cannot afford to wait till the last away league tie against Kolkata Knight Riders on May 22, incidentally the final round-robin game before the playoff phase begins on May 24.
But the Royals, out of running for the next phase with only 11 points ahead of their final game, would be equally eager to stop Mumbai from clinching the berth, which could lead to a no-holds-barred game between the two outfits.
The match would also provide Mumbai an opportunity to avenge their humiliating seven-wicket defeat against Royals in an away encounter in Jaipur last month.
In Jaipur, Mumbai’s strong batting line up choked and were restricted to a paltry 94 for eight, which the Royals overhauled losing just three wickets with 11 balls to spare.
And Tendulkar would be keen to reverse that result by leading from the front with the bat on a track which too is likely to assist the slow bowlers at the fag end of the season.
With Royals captain Shane Warne being let off with only a hefty fine following his public spat with Rajasthan Cricket Association secretary Sanjay Dixit, the decks have also been cleared for one final riveting battle on the field between the spin legend and batting maestro Tendulkar.
The packed gathering at the Wankhede Stadium will witness the leg-spin ace, who is retiring from all forms of cricket after the tie, confronting the champion batsman who would be smarting from the Warne retort against his comments about the pitch conditions in Jaipur after the previous engagement between the two teams on April 29.
In that match, Warne did not take his counterpart’s wicket, but did his bit by packing off danger man Rohit Sharma while fellow-spinners Ashok Meneria, who dismissed Tendulkar for seven, and Johan Botha bowled splendidly on a wicket tailor-made for slow bowling.
But Mumbai would be down on confidence going into their penultimate round robin game having suffered back-to-back defeats – by 76 runs to Kings XI Punjab at Mohali and by 10 runs to Deccan Chargers in their home ground.
In their previous tie at this ground, Mumbai struggled against Deccan Chargers and failed to chase the modest target of 136.
Mumbai’s mighty batting line-up has shown signs of vulnerability once the three main run-getters – Tendulkar (408 runs from 12 games), Ambati Rayudu (364 from 12) and Rohit Sharma (291 from 12) – were sent packing cheaply.
The overseas batsmen have simply not stepped up to the plate and delivered, though big-hitting Kieron Pollard showed some signs of rediscovering his lost form in the last game against the Chargers.
The biggest problem confronting the hosts is the lack of an effective opening partner for Tendulkar with the team’s think tank trying four of them and still not able to plug the hole.
The latest opening partner to the master batsman, Australian Aiden Blizzard has played only one innings of substance and has generally struggled against the spinning ball at the beginning of the innings. He is expected to be confronted with spin again on Friday with compatriot Warne knowing his weak point.
Retired Aussie cricketer Andrew Symonds has been a big disappointment with both bat (135 runs from 10 games) and ball (1 wicket) while giant Pollard (102 runs and 9 wickets from 12 games) has only done slightly better.
For Mumbai fringe players, Tirumalasetti Suman and R Satish have not delivered with the bat barring once when the former scored a quick-fire 36.
In such a scenario, Mumbai batting will largely depend on the top order against the Royals spin-heavy attack.
Mumbai’s bowling has delivered for the most part though Munaf Patel (17 wickets in 12 games) had an off day against the Chargers in the last match and the lanky pacer would be eager to make amends for that lapse.
Pace spearhead Lasith Malinga (27 wickets in 12 games) and Harbhajan Singh (13 wickets in 11 games) have been bowling splendidly and the duo has largely made up for the lack of adequate support from other bowlers.
On the other hand, Rajasthan have been let down by the below-par show of opener Shane Watson (241 runs in 10 games).
The fact that Botha, a batsman with far less ability, has scored more runs (230 from 9) than Watson shows that the Aussie allrounder has not performed to his potential.