Mumbai: Their Indian Premier League campaign back on track after tasting five successive losses in the United Arab Emirates, defending champions Mumbai Indians will now face two-time title winners Chennai Super Kings in a potentially explosive no-holds-barred contest at the Wankhede Stadium here on Saturday.
The two arch-rivals are poised to go toe-to-toe in front of a packed crowd in the night game that is more crucial for the hosts and Champions League holders than their southern rivals who are sitting pretty at no. 2 on the points table with six wins from eight games. Mumbai's comprehensive back-to-back victories over table toppers Kings XI Punjab on May 3, followed by another well-merited one against Royal Challengers Bangalore on May 6 in their well-fortified home venue has brought them right back into the race for the four play-off berths. (Read: Mumbai Indians show why Wankhede is their fortress)
However, a first defeat in 11 games at this venue since tasting defeat in 2012 would virtually derail Mumbai's quest for clinching back-to-back IPL crowns and emulating Super Kings' feat in 2010 and '11. Mumbai would be eager to carry their winning momentum against the formidable Super Kings whose morale, especially its bowlers, could be down after the 44-run thrashing they got from Kings XI on May 7.
Chennai bowlers, ripped apart by Kings XI's Glenn Maxwell and company, would find in-form captain Rohit Sharma and burly West Indian powerhouse Kieron Pollard major stumbling blocks. Sharma, who made a superb 59 not out, and Pollard (43) put on a near century partnership for the fifth wicket against Bangalore in Mumbai's previous game which helped the home team post their highest total of 187 this season. (Read: Dhoni compares Maxwell with Sachin, Sehwag in talent)
Both these batsmen revel at Wankhede where the ball comes on to the bat nicely and are expected to be the main hurdles for Chennai's varied bowling attack. Also the likes of Ambati Rayudu and Corey Anderson have made starts without launching into the big league, while new look opener Chidambaram Gautam has surprised with his big hits.
Super Kings batsmen too, especially the successful opening combination of Brendon McCullum and Dwayne Smith, apart from Suresh Raina (212 runs from 8 games) and Mahendra Singh Dhoni (147), would also relish the surface which is good for stroke play. West Indian Smith is pretty much used to the Wankhede track having played for Mumbai before shifting base and is the leading run getter (339) for his team along with New Zealand captain McCullum (314). Both teams have a well balanced attack with Lasith Malinga (9 wickets) for Mumbai and Mohit Sharma (14) for Chennai being the most successful medium pace bowlers.
The hosts have beefed up their pace attack, which has been hit heavy by the injury to Zaheer Khan, by including UP swing bowler Praveen Kumar after Pawan Suyal proved very expensive against RCB. If Mumbai have the fighting Harbhajan Singh (6 wickets) to bank upon for applying the brakes in the middle overs, Chennai have their spin twins - Ravindra Jadeja (11) and Ravichandran Ashwin (7) - to do this job.
Chennai, however, seems to be missing their top all-rounder Dwayne Bravo who was ruled out of the season after getting injured in the very first game. Dew could be a factor for the team bowling second. Mumbai had the upper hand over their rivals last year by winning three out of their four clashes of the season, their lone defeat coming in the first qualifier at Delhi which they avenged in the all-important final in Kolkata and became champions.
Teams (from): Mumbai Indians: Rohit Sharma (C), Lasith Malinga, Kieron Pollard, Harbhajan Singh, Ambati Rayudu, Michael Hussey, Pragyan Ojha, Corey Anderson, Praveen Kumar, Josh Hazlewood, CM Gautam, Aditya Tare, Apoorv Wankhade, Marchant de Lange, Krishmar Santokie, Ben Dunk, Pawan Suyal, Sushant Marathe, Jasprit Bumrah, Shreyas Gopal, Lendl Simmons.
Chennai Super Kings: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (C), Suresh Raina, R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Faf du Plessis, Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Smith, Ashish Nehra, Mohit Sharma, Samuel Badree, Ben Hilfenhaus, Matt Henry, B Aparajith, Mithun Manhas, Ishwar Pandey, Pawan Negi, Vijay Shankar, Ronit More, John Hastings.