At the start of most seasons of the Pepsi Indian Premier League, teams doing a back-of-the envelope calculation will tell themselves they need eight wins to have a shot at making the play-offs and nine to be certain. While that largely holds true, the sixth season may end up demanding more of those who want to go all the way. Mumbai, who will play the first of two matches at home in three days, against the Sunrisers Hyderabad on Monday (May 13), already have nine wins in the bag, but they will be keen to seal the deal.
The extra points needed for safety this season is a result of four teams being bunched tightly together, with the Chennai Super Kings being the only ones to break away and hit the 20-point mark. This means that the Sunrisers, whose batting looked remarkably thin at the start of the tournament, what with Shikhar Dhawan having to sit out the early part with a hand injury, being carried by their bowlers. Defending low totals became a hallmark of the Sunrisers' journey, and though concerns remain over their batting, they've done enough to stay in the hunt.
Mumbai's problem has been inconsistency, with their top-order failing to wear a settled look despite the presence of some heavyweights. There's no sign now of Ricky Ponting, who began the season as captain, save for the occasional bit of fielding as substitute. Rohit Sharma has continued to give glimpses of an unmistakeable talent that simply defies fulfillment and Dwayne Smith's tendency to start slowly has occasionally been exploited by the opposition.
The saving grace for both Mumbai and Hyderabad, the unlikely glue that has held the batting together if you will, has been the wicketkeepers. Dinesh Karthik set the tone early on with some typically belligerent batting. Although Karthik has always had a wide range of strokes, he has been guilty of letting his eagerness get the better of him, something that he has gradually learned to keep in check. Also, in his time away from the Indian team, Karthik has cultivated the ability to play the big shots when he needs to release the pressure, and the sixes seem to come far more effortlessly now than ever before.
If Karthik's resurgence has earned him a recall to the Indian team for the ICC Champions Trophy, his opposite number in Monday's game, has beavered away to accumulate runs. Parthiv Patel, while not really threatening bigger hitters for the Orange Cap, has 218 runs to his name from 9 innings, the most by any Hyderabad player this season. All that is needed is for some of the power batsmen in his team to come good, and the value of Parthiv's contribution will become obvious.
It's impossible to look at the Hyderabad team and not mention their bowling. Dale Steyn's overs, while not yielding wickets by the bucketful, have been dramatic at the top of the order and in the death, the two times when batsmen are most keen to attack. With Steyn, however, it is only the rare batsmen who tries to attack - as AB de Villiers has done on occasion - with most content to just play him out. This gives the Hyderabad team a bit of a cushion, leaving the door open for Amit Mishra to bowl aggressively, in the sole aim of picking up wickets rather than trying to defend. Mishra, who like Karthik has forced his way back into the Indian team, is consistently showing that he was unfairly adjudged not really suitable for the shorter versions of the game.
Hyderabad held their nerve for a win against Kings XI Punjab in Mohali late on Saturday (May 11) night, and the lack of time meant they would go straight into the Mumbai game without a practice session to acquaint themselves with the Wankhede Stadium. Mumbai had a workout on Sunday evening, getting a good feel of the hot and humid conditions, something they are only too familiar with anyway.
The temptation is to view Monday's fixture as a case of Hyderabad's bowling against Mumbai's batting. But, with both teams trying to break this stereotype, don't be surprised if the script is not strictly adhered to.
Mumbai Indians: Rohit Sharma (capt), Ricky Ponting, Aiden Blizzard, Nathan Coulter-Nile, James Franklin, Phillip Hughes, Mitchell Johnson, Glenn Maxwell, Jacob Oram, Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Smith, 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 (wk), Sachin Tendulkar, Suryakumar Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah.
Sunrisers Hyderabad: Kumar Sangakkara, Cameron White (capt), Akshath Reddy, Amit Mishra, Anand Rajan, Ankit Sharma, Ashish Reddy, Biplab Samantray, Cameron White, Chris Lynn, Dale Steyn, Darren Sammy, DB Ravi Teja, GH Vihari, Ishant Sharma, Karan Sharma, Nathan McCullum, Parthiv Patel, Prasant Padmanabhan, Quinton de Kock, Sachin Rana, Shikhar Dhawan, Sudeep Tyagi, T Sargunam, Thisara Perera and Veer Pratap Singh.