The second Qualifier to be played at the Eden Gardens appears to be a mismatch. A battle between a star-studded team that has faltered when it has mattered most and one that has punched above its weight is a contest that can attract attention from even those who scoff at the format.
Mumbai Indians will be the favourites when they play Rajasthan Royals to gain the right to challenge Chennai Super Kings in the final on Sunday. But beyond the well documented SWAT analysis of both teams,Rajasthan has one weakness that has been brought about by two of their three players left-arm spinner Ankeet Chavan and off-spinner Ajit Chandila being under investigation for spot-fixing allegations.
For a team that has a well-stocked stable of medium-pacers,not having the services of S Sreesanth,under spot-fixing suspicion,is not as much a crisis as the spinners who are facing sanctions for the same alleged offence.
Against Sunrisers Hyderabad in the eliminator on Wednesday,Rajasthan didnt field a single spinner,while Hyderabad Sunrisers used slow bowlers Amit Mishra and Karan Sharma.
The pitch at the Kolkata,on the face of it,may seem tailor-made for Rajasthans pace attack but the wicket at the Eden Gardens will assist the spinners,like it largely has all season.
Balance at play
Mumbai have off-spinner Harbhajan Singh and left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha with 19 and 15 wickets respectively. The former has a decade-long love-affair with this venue. Rajasthan,on the other hand,are bereft of a viable spinning option after the inglorious exit of their two Indian spinners.
Inclusion of Chinaman Brad Hogg might upset the overseas combination with only four foreigners allowed in the playing. Forty-one-year-old Pravin Tambe has a niggle and it waits to be seen if Rajasthan will back him even if he is fully fit in a do-or-die game.
In the group league match here against Kolkata Knight Riders,Hogg played in place of medium-pacer Kevon Cooper but went for plenty. So Rajasthan have a tricky call to make. Royals seamers restricted Hyderabad to 132 for 7,but Mumbai are a different proposition when it comes to power-hitting – at the top and in the middle-order.
Sachin Tendulkars fitness is a concern for Mumbai. The master batsman is recovering from a hand injury but bowled for a long time in the nets and has a 50-50 chance of playing. But even without him,the Mumbais batting looks awe-inspiring with Dwayne Smith,Rohit Sharma and Kieron Pollard providing the firepower and Dinesh Karthik playing around them.
Interestingly,Rajasthans top four collectively have outscored their Mumbai counterparts with their combined tally reading 1,706 runs in 17 matches. Rahul Dravid,Ajinkya Rahane and Brad Hodge have made excellent contributions. Youngsters like Stuart Binny and Sanju Samson too have chipped in well. Shane Watson (537 runs) remains their main match-winner. To upset Mumbai at Eden,the Australian all-rounder had to make a big impact. Rahane has to recover from his mini-slump. He has failed in the last three matches and would be keen to make amends.
On the bowling front too,the two teams are very much neck and neck. Mitchell Johnson,Lasith Malinga,Harbhajan and Ojha form one of the most formidable bowling attacks in the IPL. Together they have accounted for 73 opposition batsmen. Rajasthan dont have big names in their bowling line-up but Dravid has used his resources brilliantly. James Faulkner is steadily growing in stature under his watch. He already has 27 wickets. Cooper has 17,while Watson and Siddharth Trivedi have contributed with 12 and 11 wickets respectively.
Stars dont shine
Mumbai,despite being one of the showpiece outfits,havent won the IPL yet. And as Dravid has said,they will be under pressure because of the stars in their line-up.