Mumbai brace for dynamic Knight Riders
Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Start time 2000 local (1430 GMT)
Defending champions v former champions makes for good billing. Being the season opener entices its share of audience. A dash of chequered recent history and both Kolkata Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians have points to prove.
A 14-match winning streak for Gautam Gambhir's men screeched to a halt in the Champions League T20 final. Sunil Narine's absence - he was suspended for an illegal action - coloured an eight-wicket defeat to Chennai Super Kings. There had been doubts over his participation as late as last Sunday, but the BCCI sub-committee for suspect actions is satisfied with the changes. "It has never been our strategy to have a back-up for Sunil, because there can't be a back-up for him," Gambhir said.
Now though they don't have to worry about plan B. They have most of their A-team to call on, barring the injuries to James Neesham and Chris Lynn. Robin Uthappa was the top-scorer in the Ranji season. Morne Morkel was one of the bowlers of the tournament at the World Cup. Ryan ten Doeschate and Andre Russell have excellent pedigree as T20 finishers. They retain Shakib Al Hasan's services for the first couple of matches. Options aplenty.
Options that should worry Mumbai. Last we saw them, they became the first IPL team to fail the qualifying round into the Champions League T20. But there were extenuating circumstances: Rohit Sharma, their captain, was injured and left their team combination a mess. His presence at the helm, along with Ricky Ponting as coach, and the Lasith Malinga-led bowling raises expectation. Kieron Pollard will have his own spotlight, as well. Since his time away from the West Indies team, he's written two columns for Al Jazeera and played only twice as many games of competitive cricket. Not the best ratio for an active cricketer. So the biggest question Mumbai will face is if the various cogs fit together smoothly.
Kolkata Knight Riders LWWWW
Mumbai Indians LWLLW
Watch out for…
Since the acquisition of Sunil Narine, the Knight Riders' spinners boast the best average (20.86), economy rate (6.5) and strike-rate (19.2) in the IPL. A T20 captain's dream, they rip through the overs, leaving batsmen in a daze and the scoreboard stagnant. A "fresh pitch," according to Gambhir and evening rains in the lead-up to the opening match can limit the amount of purchase available.
So how can Mumbai combat the spin strangle? That vast thinktank would look to Rohit Sharma to provide an answer. He is arguably their most versatile player and his ability to soak pressure and beat it was on show when he struck a century against Bangladesh in the World Cup quarter-final. He does it with greater frequency in IPL as he showed in the 2013 season when he took over captaincy and won Mumbai their only IPL title.
Stats and trivia
- Mumbai have won 10 out of 14 matches between the two sides so far. Although Knight Riders have come out top in their last two encounters.
- Knight Riders have never held the purple cap, although they do have a player in the squad who had won it for a different team - Morne Morkel for Delhi Daredevils in 2012
"I have always maintained that even if he [Sunil Narine] bowls a straight ball, it is always going to be an advantage - that's the kind of aura and that's the kind of threat he has had on the opposition throughout the last three years"
Kolkata Knight Riders captain Gautam Gambhir on his primary match-winner
"We have had very good memories of Kolkata. We won the championship there. We understand the conditions there very well. Am sure the guys can exploit the conditions well."
Captain Rohit Sharma on Mumbai Indians starting their campaign in Kolkata
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo