Big picture

A win will mean completely different things for the Mumbai Indians and the Rajasthan Royals when they meet on Sunday evening in Abu Dhabi. For the Mumbai Indians, it will further strengthen their chances of a top-two finish, which at the moment looks like a three-way race with the Delhi Capitals and the Royal Challengers Bangalore. For the Royals, who are currently on eight points from 11 games, it will keep their playoff hopes alive.

Usually slow starters, the Mumbai Indians have been a different unit this time. Since losing the opening match of the tournament to the Chennai Super Kings, the only two results to not go their way came via Super Overs. Their ten-wicket win over the Super Kings on Friday, in the absence of their regular captain Rohit Sharma, was another example of how ruthless they have been this season.

The Royals, on the other hand, have lost three out of their last four games, their two wins at the start of the tournament and Sanju Samson's scintillating knocks in those both looking like things from the distant past. Ben Stokes' entry was supposed to revive their fortunes but the experiment to open with him hasn't worked. In the bowling, they rely too much on Jofra Archer. Can they do a Tewatia?

In the news

Sharma missed the game against the Super Kings because of a hamstring injury and it's unlikely he will be available for Sunday's match.

Previous meeting

After opting to bat, Suryakumar Yadav's unbeaten 47-ball 79 helped the Mumbai Indians post a daunting 193 for 4 in Abu Dhabi. In reply, Jos Buttler fought a lone battle with 70 off 44 balls as Jasprit Bumrah's 4 for 20 helped bundle the Royals out for 136.

Likely XIs

Rajasthan Royals: 1 Robin Uthappa, 2 Jos Buttler, 3 Sanju Samson (wk), 4 Steven Smith (capt), 5 Ben Stokes, 6 Riyan Parag, 7 Rahul Tewatia, 8 Jofra Archer, 9 Shreyas Gopal, 10 Ankit Rajpoot, 11 Kartik Tyagi

Mumbai Indians: 1 Quinton de Kock (wk), 2 Ishan Kishan, 3 Suryakumar Yadav, 4 Saurabh Tiwary, 5 Kieron Pollard (capt), 6 Hardik Pandya, 7 Krunal Pandya, 8 Nathan Coulter-Nile, 9 Rahul Chahar, 10 Trent Boult, 11 Jasprit Bumrah

Strategy punts

  • The Royals are yet to find their best batting order. Even though Buttler has done all right in the middle order, it might be worth asking him to open in place of Stokes, who has managed just 110 runs off 103 balls and is yet to hit a six. The one swap will fix two problems for the Royals. Buttler has been at his best - 2287 runs at 40.12 with a strike rate of 151.75 - when opening the batting, while Stokes has played most of his cricket in the middle order.

  • The Royals can try bowling Shreyas Gopal against Quinton de Kock, who has scored only 18 off 28 balls against the legspinner while being dismissed once.

Stats that matter

  • Archer has picked up one-third (15) of the wickets taken by the Royals bowlers (45) in the tournament. Eleven of Archer's 15 wickets have been of top-order batsmen (No. 1 to 3).

  • Smith averages 46.4 against the Mumbai Indians, his best against any team in the IPL.

  • de Kock had managed only 48 runs at an average of 12 and a strike rate of 112 in the first four games of the season. Since then, he has scored 320 runs in six innings at an average of 80 and a strike rate of 150.

  • Bumrah has conceded less than seven an over in each of his last five games while picking up ten wickets.

Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo