Late April afternoons are definitely not the time for cricket here in Jaipur. However, when Rajasthan Royals and Mumbai Indians walk out for their first encounter of IPL 4 at 4 pm on Friday, a packed Sawai Mansingh Stadium is almost certain to be in attendance. Blame it on the Sachin Tendulkar effect that fans are willing to brave the searing heat just to watch the iconic batsman play. In fact, if demand for tickets is anything to go by, this is perhaps bigger than the two one-day internationals that this stadium hosted last year.
For the players, however, it will be an uncomfortable afternoon.
Mumbai Indians are at the top of the IPL heap and if 14 points are considered to good enough to make the knockout stage, Tendulkar’s men are almost there. With 10 points already in their bag, they would be going all out for another two on Friday. Rajasthan Royals’ fortress, Sawai Mansingh Stadium, has already been breached by Kolkata Knight Riders this time and the Mumbai-based team would be too willing to add to the injury.
However, the Royals have been quite unpredictable in the tournament so far and it is not beyond them to beat the mighty Mumbai Indians. They have the arsenal too, in Shane Watson, Shane Warne, Ross Taylor, Rahul Dravid. You would need just two of them to fire, with smaller contributions from the others, and Mumbai would have a fight at hand. Watson, in particular, needs to prove that his blitz against Bangladesh in the ODI series was no fluke.
Talking about arsenal, the ones at Royals’ disposal looks pale when compared to Mumbai Indians. Tendulkar himself, Lasith Malinga, Harbhajan Singh, Kieron Polard, Andrew Symonds, Rohit Sharma – all potential match-winners on their day. But then, T20 is not just about potential and the format of the game is such that there are no outright favourites.
The talking point is of course the clash of two legends, Tendulkar and Shane Warne. Even at his peak, the Australian spin wizard could never tame Tendulkar and Friday would provide him with another opportunity. Warne, despite having quit the game a few years ago, has been one of the best spinners in view during this edition of the IPL. However, this would be the real test for him. Tendulkar might have come out as the better man in many a battle, but wily Warne still has enough tricks up his sleeves to trouble Tendulkar.
This could well be the battle that this edition of the IPL has been waiting for.