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April 9, 2011
It's the clash between the two biggest cities in India, and arguably the biggest cricketing centres in the country. Given the deep pockets of their respective IPL franchises, and the compelling talent at their disposal, it is surprising that neither side has managed to win the IPL yet. Mumbai endured a forgettable first two seasons before sparking into life last year. Yet, they were pipped at the final hurdle by a Chennai side with better big-match temperament. Delhi muscled their way to the semi-finals in 2008 and 2009 before choking in the knockouts. Last year was even worse, as they stuttered at the end of the league stage and missed out on the semi-finals.
If anything, Delhi will find the going even tougher this year. The addition of two new franchises and the churn at the auctions have resulted in a massive drain of talent from their side. AB de Villiers, Daniel Vettori, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Dirk Nannes and Paul Collingwood have all moved away - names big enough to form a new IPL team, may be the Delhi Exodus Eleven?
Yet, Delhi have managed to retain their biggest player. Virender Sehwag plays Test cricket at one-day pace and ODIs at Twenty20 pace. It leaves him in a quandary while playing the shortest form of the game - there's no higher gear left for him to find in Twenty20s, and he succumbs attempting outrageous shots. This year, he will want to temper his aggression, given that he has David Warner and Aaron Finch in his side, two of the most exciting Australian Twenty20 talents. Morne Morkel is an impressive addition to the bowling attack, but unless Irfan Pathan steps up, Delhi will struggle to contain good batting line-ups.
Mumbai once again look great on paper. They lost Zaheer Khan and Saurabh Tiwary in the auction, but have held on to their remaining game-breakers. In addition, they have pulled in Rohit Sharma, who walks on water every IPL season before inexplicably slipping into laziness for the rest of the year. Sachin Tendulkar, as always, holds the key, but all eyes will be on old buddies Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds. On the international stage, they could barely stand each other's presence, but the beauty of franchise cricket is that it has managed to bring them together and might even spark off an interesting friendship. Mumbai will hope Munaf Patel can plug at least a part of the Zaheer-shaped void in the side.
Kieron Pollard and Lasith Malinga are automatic overseas picks for Mumbai, barring injury worries. Davy Jacobs and Dilhara Fernando will hope to take the other two spots, unless Mumbai choose to go the Kolkata way and go in with fewer than four foreign players. Aditya Tare is a specialist wicketkeeper, but Ambati Rayudu was preferred last year. Jacobs is also capable of doing the job behind the stumps.
Delhi's fate will hinge on how quickly Irfan Pathan can rediscover his swing. And on whether Ajit Agarkar can, at long last, find a way to bowl economically. Given the absence of big names, this could be their season for team efforts. Warner is expected to open, while Andrew McDonald and Morkel are shoo-ins for the starting XI. Naman Ojha may be pushed down the order, though he is likely to keep wicket if he plays.
In the spotlight
Davy Jacobs took over leadership of the floundering Warriors franchise, and turned things around with his inspiring presence, guiding them to the final of the 2010 Champions League. Though Mumbai did not play Warriors in that tournament, Tendulkar would have noted Jacobs' exploits at the top. Jacobs' batting technique is founded upon an ability to jump back deep in the crease and plunder anything marginally outside off stump, with a powerful uncocking of the wrists. Will Tendulkar nominate Jacobs as his opening partner?
The portly, bespectacled, gum-popping Aaron Finch was the other batting hero of the Champions League. He has the ability to pace an innings perfectly, and murder spinners when they err in length. R Ashwin found this out the hard way when Chennai lost to Victoria in a group game in the Champions League. Will Harbhajan Singh have better plans in place?
"I am not of the opinion that this format is all about slogging from ball one. I have been doing all the hard work, and am sure things will be even better this time."
Ambati Rayudu is confident of bettering the success he had in IPL 2010.
"I'm bowling with the aim to achieve the fitness levels that I had before and more. I bowl 5-7 overs daily at a stretch and am feeling really good about myself right now."
Irfan Pathan gears up for a comeback.
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