When the first ball of the Mumbai Indians-Rajasthan Royals match is bowled at the Wankhede Stadium on Wednesday (May 15), it will set off an encounter between two teams who are all but in the final four.
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With 20 points apiece from 14 games, both Mumbai and Rajasthan will feel they have already done enough to merit a place in the final four. However, there's nothing like making absolutely sure, and in pursuit of this the Mumbai faithful, who back their side so faithfully, are likely to be treated to a clash of cultures.
From the time the Reliance Group bought a fashionable Mumbai franchise, with the incomparable Sachin Tendulkar as icon player, they have set the benchmark for star value and big, bold spending. If their off-field strategy reflected their billionaire owner, their on-field performance was often that of millionaires, and this did not add up to significant returns in silverware.
Rajasthan, in stark contrast, have been sensible misers from the outset. Shane Warne brought enough charisma to paper over the fact that the team largely comprised journeymen and others just setting off in their careers, and victory came to them instantly. Since then though, Rajasthan have struggled to replicate their early success, but, to give credit where credit is due, they have stayed true to their philosophy.
While Mumbai have been aggressive in acquiring the big-name players, those most obviously likely to succeed, Rajasthan have gone out of their way to identify value and add to it. Whether it was from the Indian ranks, such as Yusuf Pathan or Ravindra Jadeja, Rajasthan looked for a certain x-factor in players, invested heavily in them, and reaped the rewards. Of course, as is a hazard with such a strategy, there were failed experiments along the way, but the successes were so spectacular, it caught the opposition off guard.
If Warne was all spin - both on and off the field - Rahul Dravid, Rajasthan's current captain, has been the epitome of flying under the radar and getting the job done. The 40-year-old Dravid has floated up and down the batting order and, while he may not have stung like a bee, the effectiveness of his strategising has been there for all to see. When the situation has demanded it, Dravid has fronted up and held the innings together. When the circumstances have allowed it, he has withdrawn into the shadows, allowing the likes of Ajit Chandila, Sanju Samson and Stuart Binny to blossom under the bright lights.
Mumbai are unbeaten in seven matches at home, and even with Sachin Tendulkar being in some doubt to start on Wednesday, they will not be short on confidence. Tendulkar, who experienced some discomfort in his top hand, the left, when batting against the Sunrisers Hyderabad, received treatment on the field from Nitin Patel, the team doctor. After the application of a gel and a bit of an on-field massage, Tendulkar was able to continue, but as soon as he lifted the legspin of Karan Sharma for a dramatic six over long-on, the pain was too much to take. Tendulkar retired hurt on 38, and thanks to Kieron Pollard's blitz, was not required to rejoin battle.
When Mumbai travelled to Jaipur to play Rajasthan in mid-April, they suffered a stinging 87-run loss, being bowled out for only 92, and will need no reminding of that result. Rajasthan, who have been as impressive as Mumbai at home, have shown they can do the job away as well, winning in Delhi, Pune and Mohali. If they can do the job on Wednesday, they would have proved that there are indeed many ways to skin a cat, even if the feline in question is a tiger in its own den.
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.
Rajasthan Royals: Rahul Dravid (capt), Ajinkya Rahane, Shane Watson, Sanju Samson (wk), Brad Hodge, Stuart Binny, James Faulkner, Ajit Chandila, Sachin Baby, Owais Shah, Rahul Shukla, Kevon Cooper, Siddharth Trivedi, Dishant Yagnik (wk), S Sreesanth, Ankeet Chavan, Kumar Boresa, Fidel Edwards, Samuel Badree, Shreevats Goswami, Harmeet Singh, Brad Hogg, Vikramjeet Malik, Ashok Menaria, Kushal Perera, Amit Singh, Shaun Tait, Pravin Tambe.