Mumbai Indians and Royal Challengers Bangalore will go toe-to-toe at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday knowing that a win will all but guarantee a playoff spot. After missing out on the opportunity in their previous matches – against Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings respectively – the sides will look to make amends.
There is a cloud hanging over MI skipper Rohit Sharma’s fitness. The talisman has missed the last two games for the defending champion because of a left leg hamstring strain and was not included in the Indian squad announced for the tour of Australia. But MI tweeting a picture of the 33-year-old practising ahead of the RCB game and then putting out a video of him batting “in full flow” has sparked confusion.
Regardless, MI’s explosive batting line-up, even sans Rohit, has served the team well. The extraordinary power-hitting abilities of Ishan Kishan and Quinton de Kock at the top, and Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya lower down the order make MI a difficult team to bowl at. That all four feature in the top-10 for most sixes this edition is no surprise.
The bowling pack, led by the irrepressible duo of Trent Boult and Jasprit Bumrah, found its match in Ben Stokes and Sanju Samson on Sunday. Spinners Krunal Pandya and Rahul Chahar, otherwise economical, were hit for 56 runs in five overs. How they keep Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers quiet will make for fascinating viewing.
For RCB, the challenge will be to present more than just two batting headaches. Aaron Finch has had a string of low scores and his only half-century came early in the tournament against MI, a match RCB won in a Super Over. Devdutt Padikkal has been unable to build on starts, while those below Kohli and De Villiers remain untested.
The bowlers, who have largely performed well, came up with a below-par effort against CSK and will need to regroup quickly. Navdeep Saini, who has played all 11 games, is a doubtful starter after he suffered a split webbing in his bowling hand against CSK. Umesh Yadav may appear a like-for-like replacement, but his two outings in the competition have been largely forgettable (0/83 from seven overs).
Spin bowling all-rounder Shahbaz Ahmed remains an option, but much will depend on the conditions. The last time RCB played in Abu Dhabi, the ball swung and its bowlers made merry against Kolkata Knight Riders. On a slow wicket in Dubai versus CSK, they looked rudderless. Director of Cricket Mike Hesson called it an “off day”. Time will tell.
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