The Mumbai Indians and the Royal Challengers Bangalore have been in and around the top three for most of IPL 2020, but neither can yet count on finishing there. The tournament table has been known to shape-shift dramatically in past seasons as the league stage approaches its close, and there's a possibility, this year, of five teams finishing tied at 16 points.
Neither team - the Royal Challengers' net run-rate is currently barely in the positive zone - will want to be in that situation. Both teams come to this meeting having lost their most recent games, and both have the same two oppositions lying in wait after this match, one of whom is a fellow top-two aspirant in the Delhi Capitals.
Wednesday's meeting in Abu Dhabi, therefore, could prove season-defining.
In the news
Navdeep Saini split the webbing on his right hand while fielding off his own bowling against the Chennai Super Kings on Sunday. He has had stitches put in, but since the injury is to his bowling hand, he is a doubtful starter on Wednesday.
Rohit Sharma batted in the nets on Monday, but it seems unlikely that his hamstring injury - the ostensible reason for his exclusion from India's squads for their upcoming tour of Australia - has healed to the extent that he can feature against the Royal Challengers.
The match of the tournament? Quite possibly. AB de Villiers' unbeaten 24-ball 55 powered the Royal Challengers to 201, and victory seemed almost certain when the Mumbai Indians needed 80 from 24 balls. Ishan Kishan and Kieron Pollard had other ideas, though, and forced the game into a Super Over, where Saini kept Pollard and Hardik Pandya to just seven runs. It came down to one ball, one run, and Jasprit Bumrah to Virat Kohli, and a whip to the square-leg boundary gave the Royal Challengers two valuable points.
Mumbai Indians: 1 Ishan Kishan, 2 Quinton de Kock (wk), 3 Suryakumar Yadav, 4 Saurabh Tiwary, 5 Hardik Pandya, 6 Kieron Pollard (capt), 7 Krunal Pandya, 8 James Pattinson, 9 Rahul Chahar, 10 Trent Boult, 11 Jasprit Bumrah.
Royal Challengers Bangalore: 1 Devdutt Padikkal, 2 Aaron Finch, 3 Virat Kohli (capt), 4 AB de Villiers (wk), 5 Moeen Ali, 6 Gurkeerat Singh, 7 Chris Morris, 8 Washington Sundar, 9 Navdeep Saini/Umesh Yadav, 10 Yuzvendra Chahal, 11 Mohammed Siraj.
- In the seven matches the Royal Challengers have won this season, de Villiers has scored 246 runs at an average of 123.00 and a strike rate of 203.31. In the four matches they have lost, de Villiers has scored 78 runs at 19.50 and 120.00. Of the matches they have won, four results - including the Super-Over win over the Mumbai Indians in the teams' previous meeting - would quite likely have gone the other way but for de Villiers' interventions.
- Further evidence of the Royal Challengers' over-reliance on de Villiers and his death-overs striking comes from their overall middle-overs run rate of 6.80, the poorest of any team this season. It's not hurt their campaign because of de Villiers, but the Royal Challengers can't keep expecting him to win matches singlehandedly.
- One way they could ease the burden on de Villiers is to push Moeen Ali up to No. 4 if they lose their second wicket before the ten-over mark. Of all the Royal Challengers batsmen to have scored at least 50 runs in the phase since his debut season in 2018, Ali has the best middle-overs strike rate - 160.50. His left-handedness would also help combat the Mumbai Indians spinners, Rahul Chahar and Krunal Pandya, who both turn the ball away from the right-hander.
- The Mumbai Indians are likely to have four left-handers - Quinton de Kock, Kishan, Saurabh Tiwary and Krunal - in their top seven, and the Royal Challengers are likely to have two offspinners to bowl at them, in Ali and Washington Sundar. De Kock (114.88), Kishan (100.99) and Krunal (79.41) all have modest strike rates against this style of bowling in the IPL since the 2018 season, while Tiwary has faced just one ball of offspin in this period. With this in mind, they could make Suryakumar Yadav open the batting, or promote Hardik Pandya or Kieron Pollard to No. 4, to ensure they have a right-hander in the mix for most of their innings.)
- If Yadav opens, though, the Royal Challengers could use Yuzvendra Chahal with the new ball. Since 2018, Chahal has superb records against both Yadav (14 balls, 14 runs, two wickets) and de Kock (12 balls, 11 runs, two wickets).
Stats that matter
- Both teams have enjoyed playing in Abu Dhabi this season. The Mumbai Indians have won five of their seven games here so far, and the Royal Challengers have won two out of two.
- The Mumbai Indians (12.70) and the Royal Challengers (11.47) have the best death-overs (16-20) scoring rates of all batting teams this season.
- They have done pretty well with the ball in this phase too, with the Mumbai Indians (9.89) and the Royal Challengers (10.12) boasting the second- and third-best economy rates behind the Delhi Capitals (9.15 as on October 26).
- Bumrah is one wicket short of 100 in the IPL and 200 in all T20 cricket.
- De Villiers needs 19 runs to complete 9000 in T20 cricket, while Tiwary is 13 short of 3000.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo