Having made it to the last four stage in three attempts, Mumbai Indians will be banking on skipper Sachin Tendulkar’s sensational form and home advantage against last year’s finalist Royal Challengers Bangalore in the first IPL semi-final here on Wednesday.
The Mumbai team not only has an extra advantage in home support but also a leader in Tendulkar, who has been in prime form in the tournament leads the run-getters chart. Tendulkar, by and large, has been the fulcrum around which the Mumbai batting has revolved. With 561 runs with five half centuries and a strike rate in excess of 136, the master batsman has led the team from the front.
Mumbai would again be depending on the start provided by orange cap-holder Tendulkar. They rested some key players, including their captain, for the inconsequential last league fixture against Kolkata Knight Riders last night and promptly slid to a huge defeat.
Tendulkar, however, has lacked a good opening partner with veteran Sri Lankan Sanath Jayasuriya lacking confidence and Shikhar Dhawan being inconsistent. Ryan McLaren was tried out against Bangalore and the experiment clicked with the all-rounder making 40 and Mumbai would be tempted to try it out again on Wednesday.
Mumbai youngsters have, by and large, provided good support with the duo of Saurabh Tiwary and Ambati Rayudu accumulating over 360 runs so far in the tournament. South African J P Duminy – after being drafted into the side in the last few matches – and Kieron Pollard has been a key figure in the Mumbai middle order and to add to it feisty Harbhajan Singh has proved more than handy with the long handle.
If batting has been their cornerstone, the all-round effort in the bowling and fielding department has been the highlight of their successful IPL III campaign. Harbhajan (15 wickets), Zaheer Khan (14) and death-bowling specialist Lasith Malinga (13) have done superbly both in terms of penetration as well as in economy while Pollard (11) too has chipped in nicely.
The fielding too has been brilliant, thanks mainly to the efforts put in by South Africa great Jonty Rhodes, who is the fielding coach of the outfit.
Bangalore, on the other hand, has slight edge in terms of experience with their array of battle-hardened international veterans in captain Anil Kumble, tournament’s second-most run-getter Jacques Kallis and veteran Rahul Dravid.
With the likes of Manish Pandey, Kallis, Robin Uthappa, Virat Kohli, Ross Taylor and Kevin Pietersen up its rank, Bangalore boats of a formidable batting line-up. Apart from Kallis, who has aggregated 542 runs with six fifties at a strike rate of close to 120, it has been Uthappa’s pyrotechnics that come to the side’s rescue on more than one occasion.
Bangalore’s bowling department, meanwhile, rests mainly on the shoulders on Kumble (12 wickets), pace spearhead Dale Steyn (12) and Kallis (11) with Praveen Kumar (8) contributing at crucial times even though he has been expensive.
The match also provides Kumble and his men a revenge opportunity as Bangalore, playing at home ground, lost by 57 runs to Mumbai in their last encounter three days ago.
But Kumble would be drawing heart from the fact that their previous visit to Mumbai, when they played at the Brabourne Stadium, was a successful one as the bowling clicked superbly to restrict the home team to 151 and overhauled the target with five wickets in hand.
The winners of Wednesday’s contest would meet the victorious side of the second semi-final, to be held on April 22, between holders Deccan Chargers and Chennai Super Kings at the same Navi Mumbai venue in the summit clash on April 25.