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Rahane comes home on a mission

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Manjrekar: Mumbai Indians finally playing to potential (5:06)

Brad Hogg & Sanjay Manjrekar pick Mumbai Indians as favourites in their tie against Rajasthan Royals (5:06)

Big Picture

The venue of that famous Rahul Dravid cap fling after one of the most stunning T20 heists will now host another high-voltage clash, even though this isn't quite a knockout.

Such are the dynamics this time that even 12 points could get a team into the knockouts, something each of the bottom four is still in the running for. If they win their last three, or maybe even two, there is a bright chance of Royals entering the top four without a helping hand. The tougher challenge, though, is in trying to win two of these away.


One of those will be in Mumbai, which means a homecoming for not just Ajinkya Rahane, the captain, but also for the core support group - Amol Muzumdar (batting coach) and Sairaj Bahutule (spin bowling consultant). It is this vast knowledge of the conditions that will add a layer of intrigue to the clash on Sunday evening.

For starters, they'll have to find a way around a thin middle order. Stuart Binny at No. 5 is at least two positions higher while Prashant Chopra, who opens in domestic cricket for Himachal Pradesh, isn't their best option as a middle-order batsman. But given Mahipal Lomror hasn't managed to make an impression, shunting him out after just two games so far could be a tad too harsh.

Mumbai are in a similar position. From being on the brink of elimination 10 days ago, they have come storming back with three successive wins. Among the primary reasons is their batting rejuvenation that has helped blow over patchy death bowling.

After shuttling up and down the order, Rohit Sharma at No. 3 has proved to be the steady influence. Ishan Kishan's injection of momentum, like he did with a blistering half-century against KKR, and their utilisation of Ben Cutting made possible only because they have finally looked beyond Kieron Pollard, have provided them the necessary muscle. Now for the bowlers to hold their own and play the home-advantage card well.

Previous meeting

Jofra Archer, one of their costlier acquisitions at INR 7.2 crores (US$ 1.1 million), made a splash on IPL debut after sitting out of the first two weeks with a side strain. His 3 for 22 helped restrict MUmbai to 167. K Gowtham, among their costlier Indian signing at INR 6 crore (US$ 970,000), walked in at No. 8 with Royals needing 43 off 17, and then clattered an unbeaten 11-ball 33 to seal a win with two balls to spare.

Likely XIs

Mumbai Indians: 1 Evin Lewis, 2 Suryakumar Yadav, 3 Rohit Sharma (capt), 4 Ishan Kishan (wk), 5 Hardik Pandya, 6 Krunal Pandya, 7 Ben Cutting, 8 Mitchell McClenaghan, 9 Jasprit Bumrah, 10 Mayank Markande, 11 Mustafizur Rahman/Adam Milne

Rajasthan Royals: 1 Ajinkya Rahane (capt), 2 Jos Buttler (wk), 3 Ben Stokes, 4 Sanju Samson, 5 Prashant Chopra, 6 Stuart Binny, 7 K Gowtham, 8 Jofra Archer, 9 Ankit Sharma/Shreyas Gopal, 10 Jaydev Unadkat, 11 Ish Sodhi

Strategy punt

In a tournament of tall scores and big individual contributions, Gowtham's 100 runs in 10 innings have contributed to two vital wins. After his cameo against Mumbai, he made a six-ball 18* when Royals needed 25 off eight, to take them within one blow against Delhi Daredevils. His two sixes off his first three balls helped clinch a last-over thriller on Friday night against CSK. There's perhaps a case of promoting him to give him more match time. He's got numbers to back him: 157 runs off 91 balls with his balls-per-boundary ratio at an impressive 3.95. This could mean trusting Stokes to play finisher despite poor form.

Stats that matter

  • Rahane has eight 30-plus scores in 14 innings against Mumbai. Overall, he has made 490 runs at an average of 40.8 and strike rate of 125.6.

  • Mitchell McClenaghan has dismissed Sanju Samson four times in five innings.

  • Mumbai's win percentage of 70 is the highest among all sides in their last four league games, since 2013. Royals' stands second last at 41.6% above Delhi Daredevils' 21%.

  • Jos Buttler is coming off four successive half-centuries. Can he become only the second batsman in IPL history after Virender Sehwag to score five? Familiarity of Mumbai's bowlers, having represented them for two seasons, could help.

Fantasy pick

Think left field. Ben Stokes has a week left at the IPL, before he links up with the England side for the Test series against Pakistan. His batting numbers - he doesn't even figure in the top 20 this season - have been ordinary. Fantasy points are maximised when an unpopular pick delivers finally. Stokes is like a ticking timebomb. Surely, there's a big performance coming, at least to justify the returns on investment.