Back in the mix riding consecutive victories, a buoyant Mumbai Indians (MI) will cross swords with an iffy Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) for a second time in a space of three days in a crunch Indian Premier League (IPL) encounter at the Eden Gardens here on Wednesday.
Recovering from a slow start, defending champions MI recorded back-to-back wins against Kings XI Punjab and KKR to jump to fifth spot (8 points from 10 games) in the table, a rung below their rivals (10 points from 10 games) on the morrow.
KKR, meanwhile, have blown hot and cold, winning five and losing an equal number of matches.
While the Dinesh Karthik-led side have not managed to string together consistent performances, MI led by India’s limited-over Vice Captain Rohit Sharma have looked like a team on a mission to turn the tide in their favour at the end of the season.
Mumbai were on the verge of falling by the wayside after a series of reversals before they managed to pull through in the previous two games.
While against Punjab it was a Rohit and Krunal Pandya blitz that kept them alive in the competition, a challenging 181/4 coupled with well-directed short balls during KKR’s chase helped MI stay afloat and stake a claim for a playoffs berth.
KKR looked like getting away with the points at various junctures of the match but planned short deliveries from the likes of Mitchell McClenaghan at the start and Hardik Pandya towards the end helped MI pick up wickets at regular intervals as well as break crucial partnerships.
Given the role of an opening batsman, Suryakumar Yadav has been a revelation for MI, scoring as many as four half centuries in 10 matches. The 27-year-old former KKR player is MI’s highest run-getter amassing 399 at 39.90.
One concern for Rohit would be MI’s middle order which continued to struggle against KKR and had it not been for Hardik’s innovative shots at the end, they would have not managed to post 181 despite getting off to an explosive start.
MI also lack depth in bowling and Robin Uthappa almost exposed that in the last match.
Coming to the home team, KKR were not at full strength against MI in the away game, with young pacer Shivam Mavi’s injured finger joining the team’s long list of injuries this season.
It remains to be seen whether Mavi, an U-19 World Cup winner, plays on Wednesday. Otherwise KKR might again opt for little-known Prasidh Krishna who made his IPL debut the other evening.
Led by West Indian mystery spinner Sunil Narine, KKR’s spin battery will again be the key with chinaman Kuldeep Yadav and leggie Piyush Chawla expected to choke the opposition.
Karthik has been very consistent with the bat and he would want his other batters to stand up and be counted.
Nitish Rana has been in fine touch for the purple brigade from the outset while Andre Russell has played a few devastating knocks. Young Shubman Gill, who was sent in to open the batting along with Lynn against MI, could again get the opportunity.
In the head-to-head count, MI lead KKR by a long long way at 17-5 in 22 meetings so far. Both teams need to win on Wednesday to keep their chances alive and not leave their fate to other teams.
KKR: Dinesh Karthik (captain), Sunil Narine, Andre Russell, Chris Lynn, Robin Uthappa, Kuldeep Yadav, Piyush Chawla, Nitish Rana, Prasidh Krishna, Shivam Mavi, Mitchell Johnson, Shubman Gill, R. Vinay Kumar, Rinku Singh, Cameron Delport, Javon Searless, Apoorv Wankhade, Ishank Jaggi, Tom Curran.
MI: Rohit Sharma (captain), Suryakumar Yadav, Evin Lewis, Ishan Kishan, Hardik Pandya, Krunal Pandya, Kieron Pollard, Mayank Markande, Mitchell McLenaghan, Mustafizur Rahaman, Jasprit Bumrah, Akila Dananjaya, Ben Cutting, JP Duminy, Rahul Chahar, Sharad Lumba, Adam Milne, Siddhesh Lad, Md Nidheesh, Mohsin Khan, Anukul Roy, Pradeep Sangwan, Tajinder Singh, Aditya Tare, Saurabh Tiwary.