Mumbai juggernaut meets lopsided Kochi
Friday, April 15
Start Time 2000 (1430 GMT)
In a tournament where predictions based on cricketing logic are often about as valid as that of a prescient octopus, Mumbai Indians have returned some sanity to proceedings. They were the best side on paper coming into the tournament, and rather than succumbing to the supposed "predictable unpredictability" of the IPL, they have translated their theoretical strength into two clinical victories; and Kieron Pollard and Andrew Symonds haven't even had a bat yet.
Friday will be a test not just of whether Mumbai can continue their dominance, but also of whether the IPL itself can occupy the sort of space in the country's consciousness that it has in recent years. Cricket returns to the Wankhede Stadium for the first time since Sachin Tendulkar was hoisted on his India team-mates' shoulders during the World Cup celebrations, and the IPL organisers will be hoping the cheers that greet him when he walks out to bat will create a ripple effect that will keep the buzz around the tournament going.
Mumbai's opposition, Kochi Tuskers Kerala, look a lopsided team. Their batting line-up boasts names worthy of making a Twenty20 all-star team, but the bowling, if you take out the ageing Muttiah Muralitharan and the volatile Sreesanth, reads rather eerily like a list of former India bowlers. The weakness was apparent in their first match in particular, when Mahela Jayawardene, stuck for options, had to toss the ball to the inexperienced Raiphi Gomez and watch him get hit for 20 runs in the 18th over of Royal Challengers Bangalore's chase.
If there is one weakness Mumbai have that Kochi can try to exploit, it is the support bowling. But in order to get there, they have to first pass the Lasith Malinga test. Malinga's mastery of the old ball is well documented, but he has been as lethal with the new one in the tournament so far, striking in his first over in both of Mumbai's games.
Kochi have two options to strengthen their bowling: John Hastings will be back from Australia's tour of Bangladesh, while Thisara Perera could provide some extra pace. Including either of those two, though, would mean having to bench either Brad Hodge or Murali. Steven Smith will not be joining the Kochi squad as he is returning to Australia to have surgery on his ankle.
Andrew Symonds missed Mumbai's first two games with a niggle and is likely to come in for James Franklin, meaning he will play alongside Harbhajan Singh. They were the protagonists in the Sydney saga in 2008. Harbhajan played down the incident, saying it was behind them and that they were looking forward to playing with each other.
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In the spotlight
The three squads that have won the IPL so far had one thing in common: they were built around the image of their captains. Mahela Jayawardene has led his national side to a World Cup final (in 2007) and is a dangerous Twenty20 player, although his best performances in the format have come in the opening slot. Pushing himself up the order to take on his team-mate Malinga would be a sign of confidence that could filter down to his team.
Rohit Sharma came into the tournament with his $2 million price tag hanging like a weight around his neck; cynics ever-ready to lament the IPL's ability to inflate the egos of impressionable youngsters. Friday is a chance for him to prove his worth.
- Ravindra Jadeja is Kochi's highest run-getter this season with 70 runs from two games. During the first season of the IPL he scored 135 runs in nine innings, while in the second he got 295 runs.
- Mumbai's new wicketkeeper Davy Jacobs scored only 88 runs in eight innings during the Standard Bank Pro20 series in South Africa, while Owais Shah, who is yet to get a game for Kochi, was the leading run-scorer in that tournament with 293 runs from eight innings.
"He's a great guy. Whatever happened in Sydney, that's all history now. We don't want to keep on thinking about what happened then. Hopefully, with his performance and mine, we can do a lot of good things for Mumbai Indians. "
Harbhajan Singh insists he has no problem playing with Andrew Symonds
"It is just the beginning of the tournament, we need not be negative. I think just one win can change things for us and the momentum will take us ahead in the tournament."
Mahela Jayawardene is not letting the early losses get him down
Dustin Silgardo is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.