Title-holders Mumbai Indians would be keen to end their dismal five-match losing streak but the task is easier said than done as they will clash against table-toppers Kings XI Punjab in an Indian Premier League match at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on Saturday. (Schedule | Points Table)
The stadium was a mini fortress which could not be breached in eight attempts last year as Mumbai went all the way to clinch the title for the first time. With the IPL action shifting to India after the initial phase was held in the UAE, MI would be eager to turn around their floundering fortunes after suffering five straight defeats in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. (Pollard's return to form pleases Mumbai coach John Wright)
Kings XI Punjab, on the other hand, would be equally earnest to ensure that their five-match winning streak in the UAE is not snapped by last year's champions. Punjab have batted, bowled and fielded extremely well in the first phase of the T20 League and another victory at the cost of the struggling MI would enhance their top-four chances which are already bright. (Is presence of Tendulkar, Ponting 'harming' Mumbai Indians? Wonders Dean Jones)
It has been Mumbai's batting, more than their bowling, which has caused their slump thus far in the tournament. MI have tried out a few opening combinations and failed miserably with captain Rohit Sharma, his Mumbai Ranji Trophy teammate Aditya Tare, former Australia cricketer Mike Hussey and new signing Ben Dunk, also an Aussie, all failing to get going.
The middle-order too has performed poorly, barring the last game against Sun Risers Hyderabad at Dubai when Kieron Pollard at last found form with a blistering knock of 78 off only 48 balls with six sixes and three fours. But the powerfully built West Indian all-rounder's stupendous effort went in vain as MI slumped to a 15-run defeat chasing SRH's challenging score of 172. For MI to get their floundering campaign on track, all the top-order batsmen need to find form quickly.
While MI batting has been a big let-down, the bowlers have fared only slightly better with Sri Lanka's World T20 winning captain Lasith Malinga (8 wickets), Zaheer Khan (8) and former captain Harbhajan Singh (2 wickets with economical bowling) being the pick of the lot.
New Zealand's all rounder Corey Anderson has performed miserably with both bat and ball while spinner Pragyan Ojha has also been disappointing but will be happy to bowl on the Wankhede wicket that normally assists both spin and pace.
The trouble with MI is their bench strength is not great and they would be hoping that new inclusion Lendl Simmons of the West Indies justifies his signing. Punjab, on the other hand, are sitting pretty as the only unbeaten team in the league in the UAE leg.
For this top perch, they are indebted to Australian Glen Maxwell who has struck two brilliant 90s and another 89. Maxwell (300 runs from 5 games) and David Miller (155) helped Punjab get a flying start in their opening two games against former two-time champions Chennai Super Kings and 2008 winners Rajasthan Royals.
When they failed later, Virender Sehwag has chipped in with two 30-plus scores in low-scoring games. Captain George Bailey, also a fine T20 batsman, has not been required to do much. They have, in short, a top-class batting order. Australian pace spearhead Mitchell Johnson and Sandeep Sharma have opened the bowling well and have got good support from the experienced L Balaji and Rishi Dhawan.
But the spin department appears a bit stretched with young left arm spinner Akshar Patel impressing with his wicket taking (6 wickets) ability and economy though former India bowler Murali Karthik, who has been benched in four games, has more experience.
Kings XI Punjab: George Bailey (C), David Miller, Manan Vohra, Virender Sehwag, Mitchell Johnson, Cheteshwar Pujara, Shaun Marsh, Wriddhiman Saha, Thisara Perera, Glenn Maxwell, Rishi Dhawan, Anureet Singh, Sandeep Sharma, Akshar Patel, Beuran Hendricks, Karanveer Singh, Murali Kartik, Shivam Sharma, Shardul Thakur, L Balaji, Parvinder Awana, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, Mandeep Singh.
Mumbai Indians: Rohit Sharma (C), Lasith Malinga, Kieron Pollard, Harbhajan Singh, Ambati Rayudu, Michael Hussey, Zaheer Khan, Pragyan Ojha, Corey Anderson, 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.