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Feature

Tim David could become the new poster boy of IPL's evolving El Clasico

A fixture that was once dominated by Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo is now being reinvigorated with younger, fresher blood

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
07-Apr-2023
While Mumbai Indians only picked Tim David eight times last season, his strike rate of 216.27 was enough to earn him a retention for 2023  •  BCCI

While Mumbai Indians only picked Tim David eight times last season, his strike rate of 216.27 was enough to earn him a retention for 2023  •  BCCI

Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings are Indian cricket's versions of Real Madrid and Barcelona, the biggest and best teams in the IPL's history. Even after propping up the table in 2022, they are the rivals whose meetings still attract more interest than any other fixture in the tournament.
But Saturday night's El Clasico marks a changing of the guard, one that could be detected in their most recent meeting at the Wankhede. That night, with both teams languishing at the wrong end of the table, Dwayne Bravo played his 116th and final match for Chennai, bowling two wicketless overs; Kieron Pollard, a Mumbai stalwart since 2010, was dropped from their side, never to return.
For all the brilliance of MS Dhoni and Rohit Sharma, those two men, who grew up 10 miles apart from one another in North-West Trinidad, have defined this rivalry. At least one of Bravo and Pollard has featured in each and every one of Mumbai and Chennai's 36 previous encounters, 34 of them in the IPL and two in the Champions League T20. In those games, nobody has taken more wickets than Bravo, and nobody has hit as many sixes as Pollard.
This weekend, they will sit in their respective teams' dugouts as bowling and batting coach. Both men still play around the world, and lined up together for one of Mumbai's team in the UAE's ILT20 earlier this year, but announced their retirements from the IPL in late 2022 and have taken up roles on the support staff.
"I look forward to my batters coming up against DJ and his bowlers," Pollard said on Friday evening. "Hopefully we can see how that goes, and who can be singing at the end of it - or who will be singing, and who will be crying." History is on his side: Mumbai have won 21 times and lost 15 against their rivals.
If Chennai have not yet identified a long-term successor to Bravo, Mumbai's replacement for Pollard is clear. The end of last season's basement battle offered a glimpse of the fixture's future: Mumbai's low-key victory was sealed by a 6ft 5in power-hitter, who faced seven balls and swung two of them over midwicket for towering sixes; this time, it was not Pollard but Tim David who clinched the points.
The pair worked closely last year. As Pollard's own form fell away, David became Mumbai's designated finisher, after unexpectedly finding himself out of the side during the middle of the season.
Confronted with the realisation that he was no longer in the franchise's strongest XI, Pollard took it upon himself to act as David's mentor.
"Polly did the role for 12 years for Mumbai Indians, and did an unbelievable job - but Tim has got a very similar skillset," Aaron Finch, who as Australia captain played a role in the selection of David ahead of Steve Smith at the start of last year's T20 World Cup, told ESPNcricinfo. "They can chip in with the ball and are always in the hotspots in the field, and with the power that they've got, you feel as though the game's never out of reach when you've got guys like that in your side."
Mumbai shelled out INR 8.25 crore (A$ 1.5 million approx.) to sign David in 2022 and while they only picked him eight times last season, his strike rate of 216.27 was enough to earn him a retention for 2023. David made a false start at the Chinnaswamy on Sunday night with a 7-ball 4, but on Saturday he returns to a ground where he faced 36 balls across last season, and hit ten of them for six.
"Over a 14-game IPL season, you're backing those guys to win you two or three games," Finch added. "I don't think Tim will ever be a guy that you're banking on to consistently get 500 runs in a tournament - but you don't buy him for that. You buy him to have a huge impact, a huge strike rate."
The similarities between the pair extend beyond the field of play. David attended Scotch College, a prestigious private school in Perth's western suburbs. But unlike Cameron Green, three years his junior at the same school, he was not a childhood prodigy who had been marked out as a future international.
Instead, he forced his way on to the franchise circuit by taking up every opportunity that came his way during the pandemic and becoming a freelancer - just as Pollard had, more than a decade ago. David is an outlier in the Australian system, playing for the national team without a central contract, or even a state one.
There is mutual admiration between them. "Polly has been a pioneer with his career, David told this website last year. "I definitely look up to him and I love the brand of attacking cricket that he plays."
Pollard passed on not only specific batting advice, but also tips as to how David could stay "fresh throughout a two or three-month tournament - and also when you're playing all year round".
"Tim is a very, very intelligent young man, who knows what he wants to do," Pollard said. "He has taken a different path as an Australian. He's gone around the world, trying to get experience in different conditions. Now he's entrusted with a job here at Mumbai Indians, and he's doing it.
"As I know, batting at that number, sometimes it's not the greatest position to be in," Pollard added with a smile. "If things don't happen, they blame you; if things go well, you go dormant and no-one praises you. He has great power. He can hit the ball, he's a strong guy, and it's just a matter of trying to do that consistently whenever the team needs him."
The nature of the position means that there is no guarantee David will succeed on Saturday, as the Wankhede welcomes back a capacity crowd for an IPL game for the first time since 2019. But if he does, he could become the new poster boy of a fixture that is evolving in front of our eyes.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98