Mumbai Indians have traditionally been slow starters in the IPL, but they've hit the ground running this season in the UAE, winning six of their first eight matches so far to lead the points table. Their captain Rohit Sharma, though, has warned the defending champions against complacency and wants them to maintain their "ruthless" approach.
"I think it's important for us to make sure that we stay on the money," Sharma told host broadcaster Star Sports at the post-match presentation. "We can't get complacent and we know that this tournament can get funny. We've already seen games - how the teams have lost - so we can't take the foot off the pedal at any given point. We have to keep making sure that we're ruthless on the field and yes the guys are hungry. They've not played cricket for six months and they want to come out here and express themselves."
After the Kolkata Knight Riders chose to bat, Mumbai's bowlers executed their best-laid plans to perfection. A fit-again Nathan Coulter-Nile, who had come in for James Pattinson, took some pasting at the hands of Pat Cummins in the end overs, but he did bounce out Nitish Rana for 5 off six balls. Then, Sharma unleashed Jasprit Bumrah on Andre Russell. When Bumrah bowled a blameless quick short ball on a fourth-stump line, Russell backed away, manufactured more swinging room and lashed him past point for four. Bumrah responded with a sharper bouncer aimed at Russell's throat, and while the batsman ducked out of the way, he stuck his bat up and lobbed a catch to the keeper. The damage was irreparable although Cummins' first T20 fifty pushed the Knight Riders to 148 for 5.
Sharma and Quinton de Kock then made light work of the target, plundering 94 for the opening stand off 63 balls. "Clinical with the ball. Clinical with the bat. Overall the performance that we were expecting was there," Sharma said. "It's always a challenge when you've won four out of four - how you turn up on that particular day. It's very important and I thought we turned up really well. Right from the start we were on their faces."
While Mumbai have used just 13 players in the squad, Coulter-Nile being the latest inclusion, the Knight Riders have been a team in flux. Ahead of Friday's game, there was a change at the top, with Dinesh Karthik passing on the captaincy to Eoin Morgan. There were changes in the batting order, as well, with Karthik batting at No. 4 ahead of Morgan, and Rahul Tripathi reuniting with Shubman Gill at the top after Tom Banton was left out in favour of an extra bowling option in offspinner Chris Green.
Earlier in the tournament, when he was the captain, Karthik said that the Knight Riders looked to be fluid with their batting line-up. Morgan echoed Karthik's comments, saying the potential match-ups will dictate their batting order.
"Given the strength and depth that we have in the batting line-up and the different skill-levels and skill-sets that we have, we have to be as adaptable as we can going forward," Morgan said at the post-match press conference. "With different oppositions, we feel there are different match-ups that we feel we can make the most of our batting line-up. Hence, the continued change in the order. "
Morgan also conceded that the top-order troubles hurt the Knight Riders and called for improvement on that front. While Tripathi was caught at backward point for 7 off nine balls, his opening partner Gill ate up 10 dots out of the 23 deliveries he faced. He barely showed attacking intent and when he searched for a release, he heaved legspinner Rahul Chahar to long-on for 21. Gill's go-slow approach has been a long-standing problem this tournament. He has struck at only 112 in the powerplay this season and his overall strike rate of 116.52 isn't flash either. In fact, it's the worst among batsmen who have batted a minimum of 200 balls this IPL.
"With the bat early on, I think we made a few mistakes," Morgan said. "I thought Mumbai Indians bowled really well and proved exactly why they're one of the form teams in the tournament so far. And from hereon [top-order batting is] another area we need to make strides on. We've just passed the halfway stage in the tournament and [there's] no better time to turn things around."