Can Mumbai reduce Gayle to a sideshow?
Friday, May 27, Chennai
Start time 2000 (1430 GMT)
In the circus that is IPL 2011, Mumbai Indians have been the trampoline artistes. They soared through the first half of the season, putting more than daylight between themselves and the rest. Then they lost steam, and began hurtling towards terra firma. At one point they even had to deal with the possibility of missing the play-offs but, almost inevitably, they bounced back with two nerve-shredding wins against Kolkata Knight Riders.
Trampoline acts are fine, but can get repetitive after a while. Meanwhile, Royal Challengers Bangalore have provided real entertainment in their corner of the circus, led by the ringmaster Chris Gayle. He has done everything for them - he has twirled his whip to tame the wildest bowling attacks, and he has juggled batting and bowling duties without breaking a sweat, all without losing the inimitable strut and swagger that are part of his persona. He has rarely failed to entertain this season, and Chepauk will love to be regaled one final time on Friday evening. If Gayle's still in town on Saturday, though, they won't be rooting for him. Chennai Super Kings are already in the final, and will have the crowd behind them for the big game.
This virtual semi-final can best be seen through the prism of various mini-battles that will make up the contest: the battle of the tenses - the present, Tendulkar v the future, Kohli; the battle of the storms - Gayle v Blizzard; and the battle of the coloured caps - Gayle v Malinga. On a flat track, and in humid conditions that could herald a dewy night, the battle that matters most could be when the coin is spun.
Form guide (most recent first)
Royal Challengers Bangalore: LWLWW
Mumbai Indians: WWLLL
Mumbai, like the rest of us, will be surprised by the fact that James Franklin has been their batting saviour for two games on the trot. Aiden Blizzard's form is good news, but the continued struggle in the middle order isn't. Kieron Pollard's strongest suit seems to be his fielding, and Mumbai should mull bringing in Andrew Symonds for him.
The silver lining in Bangalore's defeat in the first play-off was the manner in which their batting stood up after Gayle's early exit. Still, questions need to be asked about the role of Saurabh Tiwary and Mohammad Kaif in the lower middle order.
Predict the playing XIs for this match. Play ESPNcricinfo Team Selector.
In the spotlight
In Bangalore's previous game, a television commentator requested Virat Kohli to smile more often than he swears and frowns. Kohli promised to do so, but less than an hour later he was back to his swearing best, when a fielder fumbled off his bowling. Regardless of his demeanour, Kohli's batting has put a smile on his fans' faces in the last couple of years. Bangalore coach Ray Jennings says being passionate and fiery is an innate part of Kohli's personality, and that should not be meddled with. Yet, tantrums don't sit well with someone touted as a future India captain.
Like Kohli, Rohit Sharma is another upcoming batsman whose attitude has come under more scrutiny than his ability. If temper is Kohli's problem, Rohit's is temperament. Rohit's woes were best captured by his shocking run-out in the eliminator against Kolkata. In moments such as those, it is tough to believe that Rohit is completely switched on at all times when he is on the field. He will be watched closely in the remainder of the IPL, and when he gets his opportunity in the West Indies.
- Franklin, Blizzard and Harbhajan Singh have better strike-rates than the more celebrated batsmen in the Mumbai line-up - Sachin Tendulkar, Ambati Rayudu, Rohit, Pollard and Symonds
- Tendulkar has hit more fours (60) than anyone else this season. Kohli is third on the list with 54.
- Gayle has smashed 39 sixes so far this season, well ahead of MS Dhoni, who is second with 21
"Ambati Rayudu is a youngster and you let him react the way he does. He will mature. You just let him be. Harbhajan Singh has also always been aggressive. We have had characters in tennis like McEnroe ... We need characters like that in cricket."
Sachin Tendulkar might not be a fiery character on a cricket field, but he sure likes to see some fire.
Nitin Sundar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.