Wankhede set for battle of the west
Tuesday, April 20, Mumbai
Start time 1600 (1030 GMT)
It was expected that the addition of two new franchises, and the resultant dilution of talent, would rob the IPL of its biggest draw card - its competitiveness. A week-and-a-half into the event, however, things have turned out quite the opposite: just four points split the ten-team field. All sides have experienced victory and defeat, the big-ticket franchises have lost to newly-formed ones and, so far, no team is a sure pick for the knockouts.
Pune Warriors are one of the teams that have out-performed. At first sight, their side looked weak on the bowling front, and their batting seemed to lack the overseas class of other sides. Yet, they have delivered through uninhibited aggression, a Twenty20 trait rarely seen in the IPL, where sides grapple with the big differences in quality between their players. Pune don't worry about shielding weak links - they attack from the outset, through Jesse Ryder's enterprise, and through their new-ball bowlers' relentless search for early wickets.
Their seamers, however, looked helpless at the first sight of a flat track, failing to defend a big score against Delhi Daredevils. They should have a Plan B for the Wankhede that witnessed a similar high-scoring heist when Kochi Tuskers upstaged Mumbai Indians with a perfectly calibrated chase. Until that game, Mumbai's attack gunned their opponents for cheap scores, and their in-form top order chased without fuss. It is a template that Pune prefers to follow as well. With little to separate the sides, the war of the western franchises could well be decided by the battle of the coin.
Despite the Kochi reversal, Mumbai are likely to retain their combination, including their weakest link, left-arm spinner Ali Murtaza. On the other hand, Pune might consider bringing in bowling reinforcements. Murali Kartik could return to the side, though Yuvraj Singh's bowling form might work against the inclusion of another left-arm spinner. Mitchell Marsh and Nathan McCullum are also waiting in the wings, but the four overseas players' rule could make it tougher for them to break in.
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In the spotlight
Stepping into Zaheer Khan's shoes is a daunting task for anyone but, so far, Munaf Patel has managed without a problem. Even when Kochi were brutalising the rest of Mumbai's attack, Munaf escaped with figures 3-0-15-0. Will he continue to earn respect by keeping it short of a length and getting it to nip this way and that off the seam?
Two men in the Pune camp will be smacking their lips at the prospect of facing Munaf's pace-less fare. Yuvraj Singh loves to swat length balls through the leg side, while Robin Uthappa shuffles into line and lofts clean and straight. Will Munaf get them to mis-hit one of those big shots?
- Sachin Tendulkar is still second on the list of highest run-getters in the IPL's history. With a half-century against Kochi, Suresh Raina has opened up some breathing space between him and Tendulkar
- Among players with more than 100 runs this season, Jesse Ryder has the highest strike-rate (200)
"They are coming off a loss as well, so it will be a good game. There is a good rivalry between Pune and Mumbai, and fans will definitely come from Pune, so it will be a good crowd."
Pune coach Geoff Marsh looks forward to a close match
Nitin Sundar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo