THREE WEEKS have passed now but you still struggle to recall it without a chuckle. But the last time Virat Kohli was at the Wankhede Stadium—his last act anyway—he was bowling the final over of a World T20 semi-final and getting smashed for a massive Andre Russell six to signal the end of India’s campaign. At least, on Wednesday, it’s unlikely that the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) skipper will have to worry about taking the ball in his hand.
It’s not like his counterpart, Rohit Sharma, has great memories of his previous two visits to this venue either—not to forget that dramatic game against the West Indies last month. Not only has he struggled to get going the way he usually does in the IPL at his home-ground—you can actually relate the Mumbai Indians’ theme song of Duniya Hila Denge with Rohit swinging a ball over the deep backward square-leg fence every time you hear it—returning a pair of 7s, he’s seen his team receive a couple of demoralizing hammerings with visitors chasing down paltry totals with plenty of overs to spare.
Over the years, Mumbai and Bangalore have always boasted of the most high-profile batting line-ups. But while RCB have erred on being too top-heavy, the two-time champions have paid, at least in the early part of the tournament, for too often indulging in a game of musical chairs with their top-order. Wednesday’s battle will be one pitting a team that starts off well traditionally and one that makes life difficult for it at the beginning, but both coming off rather heavy defeats.
Sarfaraz Khan and Mumbai have a love-hate relationship. But despite the 18-year-old having severed all cricketing ties with the city of his birth, it’s still difficult to not look at him as a Mumbai local. This will be his second IPL outing at Wankhede, but with Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers forging mega-partnerships—like they did last time RCB played here putting on 215—it remains to be seen whether Sarfaraz can show off his prodigal talent like he already has this season. He just needs to look at, Dhawal Kulkarni and Pravin Tambe and their homecomings for inspiration. It was after all they who derailed Mumbai in Saturday’s encounter against Gujarat Lions.
While he might not be counted among the batting stars for Mumbai, Ambati Rayudu has been one batsman that Mumbai have counted on repeatedly to bat them out of a muddle. He’s already done that in all three of their losses so far, including a valiant 54 in Hyderabad. Coach Ricky Ponting has already backed Rayudu to continue at No.3, but he will hope that the explosive likes of Martin Guptill and Jos Buttler provide the fireworks that have deserted the defending champions so far.
It’s not often that swing bowlers get spoken about much in T20 cricket, but like Tim Southee showed with the new-ball against Hyderabad—a spell of 3/24—there’s no antidote for power-hitting as powerful as the moving ball. Mumbai’s strength has been in going in with two world-class new-ball bowlers come what may, and with Lasith Malinga ruled out, Southee will continue to shoulder the burden with his compatriot, Mitchell McClenaghan.
For all his batting ability, it’s with the ball that Shane Watson really proves a trump-card for every team he represents. RCB’s bowling, and more so their inability to take wickets in the middle-overs, has historically been their bane. But with Watson striking almost every time Kohli turns to him, he could well be the deciding factor for RCB finally going all the way this season. For now, he could be the one putting pressure on Mumbai’s under-par middle-order.
News from the bench
Kedar Jadhav has walked out twice in the death overs and done more harm than good to RCB’s momentum. Against Sunrisers, he made 8 off 6 and then failed to give a marauding Kohli the strike back against Delhi, robbing his team of a crucial 10-15 runs. The absence of Chris Gayle—who’s left for Jamaica for the birth of his son—will open the door for Australian Travis Head. Not only was he one of the finds of the Big Bash—smashing a 53-ball ton for Adelaide Strikers and scoring all 51 off the runs that his team required off the last three overs—Head also keeps wickets. Apart from solving their wicket-keeping puzzle, his entrance could allow RCB to strengthen their middle-order, by getting in an IPL regular like Mandeep Singh or even Stuart Binny.
With Hardik Pandya having neither delivered with bat, ball or on his unprecedented hype, and his elder sibling, Krunal, having shone with bat, bat and wicket celebrations in the previous two matches, the time might have come for Mumbai to give their much-vaunted superstar a break. To make up for Pandya’s bowling, they could bring in Corey Anderson and drop Buttler for an Indian batsman like Unmukt Chand or Nitish Rana. And Krunal has already shown that he too can keep the energy and electricity going on the field, , even if at times incessantly,much like Hardik.