It's time for the first Qualifier in IPL 2020. The top two teams face off, and one will go directly into the final. Here are some strategies the Mumbai Indians and the Delhi Capitals could use to make the game theirs.
Win the toss
It is in no one's hands, but the toss has assumed extra importance not just towards the end of the tournament but also in the matches between these two sides. The Capitals batsmen will face a few crucial match-up challenges against the Mumbai Indians, which will be discussed later, but they are best handled with a target in mind and not when batting first, which is what they have done in both their matches against Mumbai. Remarkably, of their own volition in the first instance.
Overall, only 23 of the 56 games have been won by sides winning the toss but, since October 22, the number has gone up to 11 out of 17. And 13 out of those 17 matches - never mind the toss - have been won by sides chasing. The dew has been getting heavier, and the pendulum has swung towards chasing. The best a batting-first side can hope for is for the dew to set in early so as to disadvantage both sides, the way it did in the match between the Kolkata Knight Riders and the Rajasthan Royals, incidentally at the same venue as the Qualifier.
Mumbai are a daunting proposition anyway. They have lost only three matches in regulation time, and it has taken three Super Overs to beat them in extra time. In four of the five matches that Mumbai have failed to win, they were defending totals. You need all the help you can get in a big match against Mumbai: so win the toss, and ask them to bat first.
Don't let Boult strike
In both the matches between these two sides, Trent Boult - a bowler released by the Capitals after the last IPL - has taken a wicket in the first over. The match-up between the Capitals top order and Boult is one-sided. Only Shikhar Dhawan enjoys an upper hand, but he is a left-hand batsman: if the ball swings, it could spell trouble. There might be a temptation to leave out Shaw, or even open with Marcus Stoinis - 16 off eight Boult balls overall - but equally it might be too early to try something that dramatic.
The best way, perhaps, is for the openers - onus on Dhawan - to make sure Boult doesn't strike early even if it means playing him out for three overs in the Powerplay.
Attack the other Mumbai bowlers
If the Capitals do decide to be watchful against both Boult and Jasprit Bumrah, it is imperative they go after the two spinners and James Pattinson (or Nathan Coulter-Nile if selected). It is not going to be easy - Krunal and Rahul Chahar have bowled 15 overs for 90 runs in Capitals vs Mumbai matches this IPL - but if it comes off, it will force Mumbai to either exhaust Bumrah's overs early or to go Pollard. Both are a win. This is where playing Shimron Hetmyer - a left-hand middle-overs hitter - becomes important. Both of Mumbai's spinners turn the ball back in, and the Capitals need to utilise Hetmyer and Rishabh Pant to unsettle them. In their tied match against Kings XI Punjab, Mumbai didn't even bowl out Krunal Pandya despite figures of 2-0-12-0 because their middle-overs left-hand spin hitters were too hot to touch with left-arm spin.
Hit the three Ps with pace
The biggest reason for Mumbai's invincible look is the lower middle order of Hardik Pandya, Kieron Pollard and Krunal Pandya. Their one common weakness: hard lengths at a high pace. In Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje, the Capitals have two bowlers who can exploit it. They must keep at least four overs for these batsmen. Again, easier to do when Mumbai are batting first.
The Capitals are only too aware of this. In the two matches between these two teams this season, the Capitals didn't bowl out Axar Patel in the first and didn't even play him in the second. Axar's economic bowling has been a big part of the Capitals' success, but he will be tested against Mumbai, who have Quinton de Kock and Ishan Kishan for sure and Saurabh Tiwary if Rohit Sharma doesn't make it. They could even promote Krunal Pandya if Ashwin has been seen through without damage.
Ashwin against left-hand batsmen
In the first match between these sides, the Capitals didn't use Ashwin as an attacking option. In the second, the target was so low that Mumbai could afford to play him out. None of their left-hand batsmen nor Rohit Sharma or Suryakumar Yadav enjoys a good match-up against Ashwin. This is a big opportunity for Ashwin - perhaps not 100% with his physical fitness but still seemingly fit enough to play - to strike decisive blows for his team.
Mumbai can afford to be watchful against Ashwin because the Capitals will be mindful of preserving the pace of Rabada and Nortje for the lower middle order. Kieron Pollard is the only one who has dominated Ashwin in terms of strike rate in the past but he also got out to him four times. So don't really expect Mumbai to promote either Pollard or Hardik to unsettle Ashwin, but expect Suryakumar to take charge and others to go watchfully.
Bowl Krunal Pandya early
In both the matches between these two teams, Krunal the bowler has played an important role with combined figures of 7-0-39-2. Shreyas Iyer, the Capitals' big hope should a wicket fall early, has 27 off 29 deliveries from left-arm spin this year. He has got out to them twice, including once to Krunal. Mumbai just need to see the back of Dhawan early, after which they can control their match-ups.
Bumrah to Pant
Barring one assault at the Wankhede last year, Rishabh Pant has had a torrid time against Bumrah. Mumbai will be waiting, with Bumrah, to try to make sure Pant doesn't choose this match to turn an ordinary season around.