Mumbai Indians will aim to finish on top of the table when they take on Kings XI Punjab in Dharamsala on Saturday.
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Punjab, who are out of the contention for playoffs, will not make things easy for Mumbai, perched atop the points table with 22 points from 15 games and all but assured of a top-two finish. Mumbai's Net Run Rate is superior to Chennai Super Kings', who also have 22 points with a game in hand.
Adam Gilchrist has made it clear that this will be his last IPL; no matter if Punjab go in to the game still afloat or not, he will be keen as mustard to end his home campaign in the tournament on a high. The HPCA Stadium in Dharamsala has witnessed Gilchrist at his marauding best - he made a spectacular century against Royal Challengers Bangalore last season and, on Thursday, he set Punjab on their way against Delhi Daredevils with a blistering cameo on which David Miller built quite beautifully - and a going-away gift from him won't be in the realms of the fantastic.
It has taken Punjab a while to work out their team composition, one of the main reasons why they find themselves in their current predicament. They have had to chop and change mainly because of form, though the inclusion in the playing XI of Miller has lent their batting an exciting new dimension. A wonderful striker of the cricket ball, Miller is a delight to watch simply because he plays in the 'V', and picks up a majority of his runs while hitting straight down the ground, mostly aerially.
Punjab have come to rely very heavily on Miller to apply the finishing touches, either while setting or chasing a target. They also have the bowling resources to build on a reasonable batting performance, and a distinct slant towards pace should serve them well at the HPCA Stadium, where there is assistance for the quicker bowlers.
Mumbai, already through to the playoffs and almost assured of a top-two finish, will not make Punjab's task easy. Like a gale force gathering storm, Mumbai have risen from a patchy start to evolve into a dangerous, allround team with the personnel to deliver in all potential conditions. One of the more athletic fielding sides, they have the pace and variety of Lasith Malinga and Mitchell Johnson to complement the guile and turn of Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha. Their fifth bowler hasn't done too badly either while they have additional seam-up options in Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Smith, allowing Rohit Sharma - who has taken to the captaincy like to the manor born - to call on numerous resources in a crunch.
Indeed, it is difficult to spot a weak link in the Mumbai side, which might be without Sachin Tendulkar for a second game running. Tendulkar missed the previous victory against Rajasthan at home with an injured left wrist, but took part at nets on match eve and looked in good spirits. Tendulkar has never played in Dharamsala before; a full house will be desperately hoping for a glimpse of The Master, and preferably a Master at his best, but it is unlikely, with the playoffs coming up, that Mumbai will rush him into action unless Tendulkar himself is convinced that he has made a complete recovery.
Mumbai will have to grapple with the temptation of giving men who haven't made much game-time a go against the desire to maintain momentum going into the last stages of the competition. The conditions might demand an additional pace option but it is difficult to see them making wholesale changes at this stage of the tournament just for the sake of it, and especially with the juicy prospect of a top-of-the-league-table prospect looming large. Saying that, Mumbai will also have one eye on the completely different conditions they will encounter in Delhi during the playoffs, so an interesting selection conundrum stares them in the face.
Kings XI Punjab: Adam Gilchrist (capt, wk), Shaun Marsh, Azhar Mahmood, Mandeep Singh, David Miller, R Sathish, Manan Vohra, Piyush Chawla, Parvinder Awana, Sandeep Sharma, Praveen Kumar, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, Harmeet Singh, Luke Pomersbach, David Hussey, Bhargav Bhatt, Bipul Sharma, Siddharth Chitnis, Aniket Choudhary, Manpreet Gony, Dimitri Mascarenhas, Nitin Saini (wk), Sunny Singh, Paul Valthaty.
Mumbai Indians: Sachin Tendulkar, Glenn Maxwell, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Rohit Sharma (capt), Kieron Pollard, Ambati Rayudu, Harbhajan Singh, Mitchell Johnson, Lasith Malinga, Dhawal Kulkarni, Pragyan Ojha, Rishi Dhawan, Ricky Ponting, Aiden Blizzard, Nathan Coulter-Nile, James Franklin, Phillip Hughes, Jacob Oram, Dwayne Smith, Abu Nechim Ahmed, Amitoze Singh, Yuzvendra Chahal, Sushant Marathe, Akshar Patel, Munaf Patel, Jalaj Saxena, Pawan Suyal, Aditya Tare (wk), Suryakumar Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah.