A 27-year-old who almost lost his career to an eye injury before bouncing back from oblivion to sudden glory will experience an emotional homecoming when the Mumbai Indians take on the Kings XI Punjab at the Wankhede Stadium on Monday.
For Paul Valthaty, this would surely be more than just a game. A man who learnt and plied his trade all his life in Mumbai – he went to the Elf Vengsarkar academy to hone his skills and played in the local leagues like the Times Shield – now gets an opportunity to show his city, how rare a gem had gone unnoticed in the country’s cricket mecca. That too in front of and against a team led by Sachin Tendulkar.
Ever since he smashed an unbeaten 120 off just 63 balls to script an incredible win for the Kings XI Punjab against the Chennai Super Kings almost a fortnight ago, Valthaty has become the toast of the Indian Premier League ( IPL), and his performance in the following game, where he took four wickets and scored a fifty, only added to his story.
Along with his skipper, Adam Gilchrist, Valthaty has formed one of the more dangerous opening combinations in the tournament.
The problem is, the duo now stare at the biggest challenge a batsman can imagine in this tournament – Lasith Malinga. A couple of scorching yorkers by the Lankan speed gun and the partisan Mumbai Indians’ supporters at the Wankhede will believe the game’s theirs.
In a rather open tournament, where everyone has been beating everyone, the hosts have had a relatively smooth ride, with the big defeat in the last game against the Rajasthan Royals in Jaipur, besides the stunning loss to the Kochi Tuskers, being the only blip in the graph.
They would surely be looking to bounce back in style and record a win against a team that must be tired after losing against the Knight Riders in Kolkata on Saturday night. The key for MI would be to get the Kings XI openers, and then the No. 3 bat, Shaun Marsh early enough. Kings appear brittle once their top-order is knocked off.
The Kings’ bowling too, with the exception of seamers Praveen Kumar and Ryan Harris, and leggie Piyush Chawla, doesn’t seem to possess much bite, and against arguably the best batting line-up of the championship, it may struggle. Tendulkar would be itching to rub an embarrassingly early dismissal – stumped by the Royals’ keeper Dishant Yagnik off spinner Ashok Menaria, into ‘memory fade’ zone.
MI’s No. 3 man, Ambati Rayudu, has been batting so well that his teammate Harbhajan Singh feels that he could fill in the giant shoes of Rahul Dravid in the Indian Test team.
Rohit Sharma and Andrew Symonds have done pretty well to shore up the middle, with Kieron Pollard, who has just four runs in seven games (four innings, average:2) being the only one who’s off-colour.
Pollard the fielder, though, has made up for the disappointing show with the bat – the West Indian giant has taken some exceptional catches to swing the game around for MI.
Mumbai Indians: Sachin Tendulkar (C), Ambati Rayudu, Harbhajan Singh, Rohit Sharma, Munaf Patel, Kieron Pollard, Lasith Malinga, Andrew Symonds, Davy Jacobs, James Franklin, Dilhara Fernando, Ray Price, Abu Nechim Ahmed, Aditya Tare, Ali Murtaza, Dhawal Kulkarni, Pawan Suyal, R Sathish, Sarul Kanwar, Suryakumar Yadav, T Suman, Yuzvendra Singh Chahai.
Kings XI Punjab: Adam Gilchrist (C), Dinesh Karthik, Abhishek Nayar, Praveen Kumar, Piyush Chawla, Bhargav Bhatt, Bipul Sharma, Love Ablish, Mandeep Singh, Nitin Saini, Paras Dogra, Paul Valthaty, Shalabh Srivastava, Siddharth Chitnis, Sunny Singh, Vikramjeet Malik, Amit Yadav, Shaun Marsh, David Hussey, Nathan Rimmongton, Ryan Harris, Ryan McLaren, David Miller.