Mumbai: After lining up on opposite sides in the memorable World Cup final earlier this month, Sachin Tendulkar and Sri Lankan pacer Lasith Malinga, playing as a combined unit for Mumbai Indians, pose a major threat for a struggling Kochi Tuskers Kerala in an IPL match in Mumbai on Friday.
Tendulkar and Malinga have been in the forefront of Mumbai Indians' consecutive easy away wins over strong rivals Delhi Daredevils and Royal Challengers Bangalore, and the duo would be eyeing to carry on their impressive showing against debutante Kochi, who are yet to register a win in the event.
Tendulkar had been in sublime form right through the World Cup and the Indian icon has carried on his supreme touch in the ongoing Indian Premier League, which has resulted in two comfortable wins for Mumbai Indians in the tournament so far.
Tendulkar has played the anchoring role brilliantly at the top of the order, and used his vast knowledge and experience to accumulate runs later on to come up with unbeaten knocks of 48 and 55.
Mumbai Indians top-order, in particular Ambati Rayudu who played a very good innings of 63 not out against Royal Challengers Bangalore, have given Tendulkar very good support. The bowlers, led by the unique-action Malinga, have also risen to the occasion in brilliant style to make it a superb all-round display for Mumbai Indians, who have won both their matches with plenty of wickets in hand.
Malinga blew away Delhi with his toe-crushing and swinging yorkers for excellent figures of five for 13. Though he went for some runs in his second spell against Bangalore, his initial burst that got him two early wickets helped Mumbai restrict their southern rivals for a modest 140.
Others, including World Cup-winning Indian team members Munaf Patel and Harbhajan Singh, have also been on the dot for the Mumbai outfit.
However, what Mumbai must be careful about is complacency and skipper Tendulkar has already cautioned his teammates after the thumping win over Bangalore.
"We have had a good beginning and we have to maintain the consistency as there is still a long way to go," he said after the nine-wicket triumph.
The champion cricketer also praised young Rayudu for his aggressive half-century, which should boost the Hyderabad youngster's confidence.
Praise was also reserved for Malinga, who has become an integral part of the franchise after the owners decided to retain him and West Indian all-rounder Kieron Pollard for IPL IV.
"When we started to bowl, we had hoped the target to be a maximum of 140. Malinga again provided us a great start. We also fielded well and it was another superb team effort. The idea was to bowl as straight as possible and we did just that," Tendulkar had said after the win over Bangalore. On the other hand, Kochi, in their inaugural season, have had a troubled beginning.
Kochi have posted decent totals of 161 and 148 against Bangalore and Pune Warriors in their first two games, but their bowling department let them down on both occasion. Against Pune, Kochi were in is serious trouble at 24 for four but an excellent partnership of 88 in 64 balls between Ravindra Jadeja and Brad Hodge saved the day for the Mahela Jayawardene-led side.
Kochi skipper Jayawardene too has been a disappointment as he has not found even a small per cent of the touch that helped him make a fabulous century for Sri Lanka at the same
Wankhede Stadium less than a fortnight ago. Misfiring opener Brendon McCullum and his partner V V S Laxman also will have fire in unison up the order at the floodlit Wankhede Stadium.
However, it is the form of their new ball bowlers R P Singh, the leading wicket taker in the first three editions combined, and temperamental S Sreesanth, which remains a major concern for Kochi.
Both R P Singh and Sreesanth have been guilty of spraying the ball around and would need to improve vastly against the likes of Tendulkar to have a realistic chance.
If that was not enough, retired Sri Lankan spin legend Muttiah Muralitharan too has been struggling and was taken apart by a little-known domestic cricketer, Mohnish Mishra in the end overs on Wednesday.
And Jayawardene was candid enough to admit that the team might look at other options in the bowling attack for future matches.
"(Changing Murali) It depends on the opposition. We could use different combinations. We are trying to see what the best eleven could be with Steven (Smith of Australia) coming in (after the ODI series in Bangladesh). We have to come out with a game plan for Friday," he had said.
With Australian all-rounder John Hastings expected to join the team before the next month, Kochi would have more options in their bowling combination but the limit of only four foreigners in the playing eleven means that the domestic bowlers need to buck up.
Jayawardene was not happy that his team had come close to winning their opening two games.
"In both the games we ran close, but it is not enough. We have to win the games. We have to regroup and come back well in the next game," he said.
The teams (from): Kochi Tuskers Kerala: Mahela Jayawardene (capt), Brendon McCullum, Parthiv Patel (wk), VVS Laxman, Owais Shah, Brad Hodge,Ravindra Jadeja, Thisara Perera, Rudra Pratap Singh, Ramesh Powar, R Vinay Kumar, Muttiah Muralitharan, B Akhil, Chandan Madan, Deepak Chougule, Kedar Jadav, Raiphi Gomez, Sushant Marathe, Tanmay Srivastava, Y Gnaneswara Rao, Yashpal Singh, Prasanth Padmanabhan, Steven Smith, John Hastings.
Mumbai Indians: Sachin Tendulkar (capt.), Harbhajan Singh, Rohit Sharma, Munaf Patel, Kieron Pollard, Lasith Malinga, Andrew Symonds, Davy Jacobs, James Franklin, Abu Nechim Ahmed, Aditya Tare, Ali Murtuza, Ambati Rayudu, Dhawal Kulkarni, Pawan Suyal, R Satish, Sarul Kanwar, Suryakumar Yadav, T Suman. Yuzvendra Singh Chahai.