NEARLY-THERES NEARLY THERE

Always one to falter at the home stretch (2 play-offs,1 final),Mumbai Indians have another shot at glory

Written by Nihal Koshie | New Delhi | Published: May 21, 2013 12:40 am

Batting on a practice wicket within Ferozeshah Kotla,Kieron Pollard was trying to drive the ball in the traditional ‘V’. At hand was fielding coach Jonty Rhodes,urging the big Trinidadian to get to the pitch of the ball before targetting the arc between long-on and long-off.

As the training session wore on Pollard began lofting the ball in the air as his timing improved and he grew more ambitious. The team’s video analyst,placed as a catcher in the deep,soon watched a delivery sail well over his head and shatter the glass pane of a premium enclosure in the North Stand.

The value an in-form Pollard brings to the Mumbai Indians side cannot be underestimated. Just last week he had blasted eights sixes in 27 balls to help Mumbai beat Sunrisers Hyderabad after they had looked out of the game with 62 required in the final four overs.

Pollard’s blitz helped Mumbai maintain their 100 per cent record at the Wankhede Stadium this season. But more significantly,the seven-wicket win with three balls to spare had drastically improved Mumbai Indians’ chances of a top-two finish,a position that gives them a second chance at qualifying for the final — through the second Qualifier — if they lose the first in which they play the Chennai Super Kings on Tuesday.

Crunch times

For a team that always had an assembly of stars in their line-up,Mumbai Indians have faltered when it has mattered most in the IPL. They have been in the top four since the play-offs were introducted in 2011 and were runners-up in 2010.

Last year,MS Dhoni’s team was responsible for knocking out Mumbai in the elimination final. In 2011,Royal Challengers Bangalore knocked out Mumbai in Qualifier 2. And in 2010,prior to the introduction of the play-offs,Mumbai Indians lost the final to Chennai Super Kings. The margin of defeat in each the aforementioned matches has been 38 runs or more indicating that the team had been outplayed.

Mumbai will draw confidence from the fact that they have beaten Chennai home and away this season — the margin of victory in their home game at the Wankhede was a whopping 60 runs.

In that particular game,Australian left-arm fast bowler Mitchell Johnson swung the momentum in the home team’s favour by taking three wickets — of Murali Vijay,Suresh Raina and Subramaniam Badrinath — in the third over of the innings. Johnson has been Mumbai’s in-form bowler,having rediscovered his ability to swing the ball late,especially into the right-hander,during the IPL.

Before that,he had gone through a phase marked by injury and ordinary form. With 22 wickets Johnson has taken over the baton of strike bowler from Sri Lankan pacer Lasith Malinga who has 17 scalps. With Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha taking 34 wickets between them,the bowling has a well-rounded look to it.

leading with runs

On the batting front,Mumbai have been led by their skipper Rohit Sharma,who has been their top scorer with 526 runs,the most he has scored in an IPL season. The captaincy was handed to Rohit after Ricky Ponting stepped down following poor form and responsibility has had a positive effect on the 26-year-old. With Pollard and Dinesh Karthik also among the runs Mumbai’s batting responsibilities have been shared around.

On the eve of the game Rohit said that a call would be made on Sachin Tendulkar’s fitness (hand sprain) on the morning of the first Qualifier.

Tendulkar’s form has been scratchy but he showed glimpses of his ability with 48 off 28 against Kolkata Knight Riders earlier this month. His side,Mumbai,will hope to bank on his big-match experience when up against the team that has won two titles,reached four finals and one semi-final and have always advanced past the league phase.

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