Mumbai: Kolkata Knight Riders are certainly not out of the race for a berth in the playoffs yet, but they are cutting it fine. If they had not been the defending champions at the Pepsi Indian Premier League 2013, they might have been written off already. That they have not been and that they can be expected to push Mumbai Indians hard on Tuesday (May 7) evening at Wankhede Stadium speaks volumes of their potential.
But it's the Wankhede. Mumbai have not only won five times out of five at their home ground so far in IPL VI, in their last match they produced perhaps the unlikeliest result possible - a victory over Chennai Super Kings by 60 runs. It's the sort of performance that can raise the morale as well as the reputation of any team and that's something Kolkata must be aware of.
Mumbai, a team of only one-and-a-half minuses and many, many pluses. Apart from Sachin Tendulkar's poor form at the top of the batting order and the struggle to identify the best third seamer - Dhawal Kulkarni, Rishi Dhawan, Munaf Patel and Pawan Suyal have all been tried - all seems to be in fine fettle.
Dwayne Smith has done well more often than not and would have great memories of the Kolkata bowling attack, which he tore apart with three fours and five sixes during a 45-ball 62 in Kolkata less than a fortnight ago. Apart from Smith, Rohit Sharma and Dinesh Karthik have been the pillars of the middle-order, even if Karthik's form has dipped from where it was at the start of the tournament, and Kieron Pollard and Ambati Rayudu have taken good care of the last few overs of the innings.
Mumbai's bowling, as the misfiring Kolkata batsmen would be well aware, is quite lethal. Mitchell Johnson's consistency in picking up wickets would have surprised his doubters, while Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha have not only struck regularly, they have conceded runs at under seven an over. Lasith Malinga might not have been among the wickets much, but he has kept things tight whenever given the ball.
Kolkata, meanwhile, have looked nothing like a team with such a strong line-up of players should. And never before must a 49 not out from 35 balls been celebrated as much as Kolkata did Yusuf Pathan's innings against Kings XI Punjab on Friday. Gautam Gambhir, the Kolkata captain, never stopped backing him, Yusuf said after the knock. If that's so, Gambhir has been incredibly patient and Kolkata fans would hope that Yusuf's Friday version is the one that turns up for the remainder of the tournament.
Gambhir himself started the tournament with a succession of good scores but has scored just 85 runs in his last six outings. His lapses have been papered over somewhat because Manvinder Bisla, dropped after the first few matches, has come good since and is the prime reason why Jacques Kallis, who himself has been up and down with the bat, and Eoin Morgan haven't had to build entire innings on their own. But, in Manoj Tiwary's absence, that's where Kolkata's batting ends, even though Rajat Bhatia and the rest of the lower order have struck a few meaty blows once in a way.
If Kolkata is not yet out of the tournament, it's mainly due to their bowling, especially Sunil Narine. Sachithra Senanayeke, Bhatia and Kallis have also been good, but it's Narine who has run the show. But how effective that bowling unit will be in the unfamiliar environs of Mumbai remains to be seen and considering the conditions, Brett Lee and L Balaji could make a comeback.
On paper, on form, and based on the conditions, Mumbai must start as the favourites. Unless, of course, Yusuf decides to continue with the kind of hitting form he showed traces of against Punjab.
Mumbai Indians: Rohit Sharma (capt), Abu Nechim Ahmed, Amitoze Singh, Yuzvendra Chahal, Rishi Dhawan, Harbhajan Singh, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Dhawal Kulkarni, Sushant Marathe, Pragyan Ojha, Akshar Patel, Munaf Patel, Ambati Rayudu, Jalaj Saxena, Pawan Suyal, Aditya Tare, Sachin Tendulkar, Suryakumar Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah, Ricky Ponting, Aiden Blizzard, Nathan Coulter-Nile, James Franklin, Phillip Hughes, Mitchell Johnson, Glenn Maxwell, Jacob Oram, Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Smith.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Gautam Gambhir (capt), Debabrata Das, Iqbal Abdulla, L Balaji, Manoj Tiwary, Manvinder Bisla (wk), Shami Ahmed, Pradeep Sangwan, Rajat Bhatia, Sarabjit Singh Ladda, Yusuf Pathan, Brad Haddin, Brett Lee, Eoin Morgan, Jacques Kallis, Ryan McLaren, Ryan ten Doeschate, Sachithra Senanayeke, Sunil Narine.