And finally we are here! Not by choice, not by default but by the sheer force of drama that differentiated the first half of the Indian Premier League to the second half, and by quite some margin. But heading into the play-offs, a lot will be at stake and a lot needs course correction.
We gear up for the challenge tonight in Dubai, where Mumbai have a pretty interesting record, winning just one game in real time while losing two Super Overs. Technically they haven’t lost here in real time and will hope to continue that run as they take on Delhi Capitals, who made a resurgent comeback with a comfortable victory against Royal Challengers Bangalore after four consecutive losses towards the back end of the tournament. It will be thoroughly brilliant to see how the outcome pans out at the Dubai Cricket Stadium on Thursday.
The Rabada match-up
Kagiso Rabada has had an interesting season so far where his impact is not restricted to any particular phases. With Anrich Nortje dominating proceedings in the powerplay, Rabada has taken the backseat, giving away 7 runs per over in the powerplay phase while taking a wicket for every 63 runs. If Rohit Sharma doesn’t play, then Mumbai will have three left-handed batsmen in the top and middle order and that means Rabada’s impact being limited. The Saffer averages 16.8 at an economy rate of 7.46 against the right-handers as compared to his average and ECR combo of 28.0 and 8.39 against the lefties.
Shreyas Iyer will do the team a great favour having Rabada as the first change, letting Ravichandran Ashwin and Nortje to do their trick against the left-handed opening duo of Ishan Kishan and Quinton de Kock, with the assumption that Rohit Sharma doesn’t risk himself again. Ashwin’s record in T20 cricket is almost identical against both types of bowlers (ECR of 6.27 against left-handed batsmen as compared to 7.29 against the righty with almost similar averages).
Should De Kock and Rohit open, that isn't an issue either as they, too, have failed to take Ashwin on, striking at less than 100 SR in the last three seasons, meaning there can be a growing case for DC to push the off-spinner as much as they can in the first six overs. Utilising Rabada effectively and pushing Mumbai out of their comfort zone earlier will also save them from the Mumbai-based side running away with the game in the middle overs where they score at an RPO of 8.2 this season - the best among all eight teams.
Don’t drop Shaw against Mumbai
Prithvi Shaw’s returns have dwindled in the last three years and this year has come as a jolt with Delhi Capitals even dropping him for a few encounters. Which they could afford thanks to the rich Indian reserves and the presence of Ajinkya Rahane on the bench but against Mumbai, they got to bat deep. Not only because Mumbai have an all-round bowling attack, comprising all kinds of bowlers, but because of their own batsmen having trouble in a varied way.
For example, Shaw bats well against right-arm fast bowlers against whom he averages 27.0 and strikes at 135.0, but his average drops almost 50% against leg-spinners - a commodity that is susceptible against Iyer, who gets a boundary in every 5.84 balls; his second most favourite after left-arm wrist-spinners. Rahane offers a batting depth solution thanks to his ability to stick out and the combination of all the aforementioned factors pepper over their cracks while helping them ace the match-ups and win the small battles.
Let Bumrah carry the middle-over mettle
Kieron Pollard and Rohit Sharma are pretty much the same as captains. They don’t let their adrenaline take over their cricketing sense and respect the think-tank more than their egos and that’s one of the reasons why Mumbai are so sorted as a team. It’s now imperative they carry on with Jasprit Bumrah in the middle overs and death instead of allowing him to bowl the powerplay overs as he has done mostly after the first three games. The reason is not as a mark of disrespect for Bumrah’s skills but more because of the opposition tactics so far which allows them the solution. And remember, if one team that can afford to do that with their best pacer, it is Mumbai.
Top three of Delhi Capitals - Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane and Shreyas Iyer - have never been dismissed by Bumrah while scoring 159 runs at an SR of 134.75. It is a pretty good performance considering Bumrah’s impact with the new ball. Surely Bumrah can still perform against them all because of his quality but another complimenting figure might as well stop Mumbai from taking on the challenge. The middle-order troika of Rishabh Pant, Marcus Stoinis and Axar Patel have performed disastrously against the Gujarat pacer, scoring 12 runs per dismissal with an SR a tad under 110. With Trent Boult doing what is asked and then some more, it will be in good measure for the defending champions not to complicate the plan that is served to them on a platter.
The glittering SKY-scrapper can be tamed by a certain Sams
Suryakumar Yadav is in a zone of his own and it seems baffling he is not in the Indian team still. But tomorrow is a day for him to make another statement - for the nth time to show the Indian team what they would be missing out on. The occasion couldn’t have been any bigger but the arrangements surely can be with Daniel Sams set to continue for yet another game. The logic might seem surprising because the Aussie has already given away 70 runs in the last two games without picking a wicket but he very well can against Mumbai.
As a matter of fact, against right-arm pacers, SKY averages 43.4 while scoring at an RPO of 9.04 but that drops to 22.0 and 7.43 against left-arm pacers - something T Natarajan exploited quite nicely. Sams brings in that novelty factor as well as the tendency to trouble SKY, who seems unstoppable at the moment. With Rabada and Nortje being at the wrong side of the match-ups, Delhi can very well ask Sams do the tough job while allowing Ajinkya Rahane to play the crucial top-order role without disturbing team dynamics.