IPL 2019: Ashwin takes centre stage as Punjab takes on Mumbai

Just two games each into the 12th season of the IPL, both teams have already made news for more than their performances with ball and bat respectively.

R. Ashwin prepares to bowl during a nets session.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

Ravichandran Ashwin and Rohit Sharma are considered two of the sharpest minds in Indian cricket.

Just two games each into the 12th season of the IPL, they have already made news for more than their performances with ball and bat respectively.

A face-off at the PCA Stadium on Saturday would be an exciting clash of captaincy as much as it would be of explosive power on either side.

Kings XI Punjab has its task cut out. Chris Gayle has been imperious, as only he can be, but he needs time to take off.

READ: Sanction unlikely for Ravi, Nandan as only 11 Indian umpires for IPL posting

There have been handy cameos from Sarfaraz Khan, David Miller and Mandeep Singh even as K.L. Rahul continues his search for runs.

They would be up against the likes of Jasprit Bumrah and Lasith Malinga, the former clearly the best in the world right now and the latter a master of the shortest format.

READ: RCB vs MI: Bumrah brilliance, umpire howler hand Mumbai nervy win

KXIP’s bowling too hasn’t been exceptional but with the pitch likely to be dry and slow, the spinners led by Ashwin can hope for a better outing.

They will have to try and strike early, though. Yuvraj Singh’s stroking and hitting has been vintage so far.

He would also want to set the record straight against his former side, with whom he had a miserable outing last year. With Rohit Sharma, Hardik Pandya and Kieron Pollard in the mix, KXIP would need its bowlers to be smart and accurate.

“I don’t think it has any effect. I think it’s a long tournament and it’s really important to stay focussed and I am happy we have moved on real quickly from that first game. We did not get the result we wanted against KKR, and they did very well but we weren’t very far off, so we have moved on very quickly.”

Craig McMillan, KXIP fielding coach, on the Jos Buttler controversy in the first game.

Controversies have marred both the teams' lone win. If Ashwin was slammed for Mankading Jos Buttler when the latter threatened to take the game away, Sharma was the beneficiary of massive umpiring error when Lasith Malinga’s no-ball off the last delivery on Thursday night against RCB went unnoticed.

Those few centimetres became the difference between a second loss and the first win for the three-time champion.

Punjab won all three matches played here in 2018, with Gayle scoring an unbeaten 104 in the last game. The host would be hoping he continues from where he left.

“The one good thing about Kings XI Punjab is that we have a very settled squad right through the IPL. There are not too many guys coming and going. Some of the other teams might have to plan and work things out but Mike Hesson’s mastermind was to try and keep a settled squad as long as possible.”

Craig McMillan, KXIP fielding coach, on teams losing players towards the later stage due to World Cup.