Tactics board: Mumbai Indians to target Shami? Time to bring back Little?
Here's a look at where the game between Gujarat Titans and Mumbai can be won and lost in Ahmedabad
This is a classic tussle between an incomplete team going all out with the bat and a more rounded, consistently successful team looking to back its bowlers and their experience to contain the aggressive batting. Mumbai Indians have scored 65.9% of their runs in boundaries, the highest; only Sunrisers Hyderabad and Delhi Capitals have done worse than Gujarat Titans' 58.65%. Mumbai have tried to hit a boundary every 2.3 balls, Titans every 3 balls.
On the other hand, the top two wicket-takers in the league are Titans bowlers. They have taken a wicket every 17.3 balls, Mumbai every 20.5 balls. These bowling exploits let Titans play a more conservative game with the bat. Perhaps forced on Mumbai because of the injuries to their bowlers, their style has now become a clash of T20 cultures. It will all come to a head in Ahmedabad.
Here's what advantage the teams will look to take over the other.
Mohammed Shami has emerged as Titans' banker ever since they have come into existence, taking a wicket every 15.6 balls. His numbers this year are even better. However, in three matches against Mumbai as a Titans bowler, Shami has not taken a single wicket.
In Ahmedabad, the ball moved for Shami, and he registered figures of 0 for 18. Titans won that match. So, Mumbai will look to take every opportunity to target Shami. With him, they know what they will get: hard lengths, upright seam, high pace. In the last match against Shami, they stepped out three times for 11 runs as they took Shami for 53 runs in a total of 218.
If the ball moves around, though, attacking Shami could result in wickets as well. In night matches in Ahmedabad this IPL, Shami has nine wickets for 64 runs in 15 powerplay overs. However, that risk is something Mumbai have been happy to live with.
The Titans spinners
Mumbai have not gone out of their way to attack Rashid Khan, but in both the matches that Noor Ahmad has played, they have looked to take him down. In the first match, Noor ended up with 3 for 37, but that didn't deter Mumbai from targeting him in the reverse fixture for 0 for 38.
Rashid is a difficult bowler to step out to or sweep, but Mumbai have tried to deploy the sweep against him. In two matches this IPL, Mumbai batters have played 15 sweep shots of all varieties against him for 26 runs. No team has swept Rashid as much or scored as many off him through that shot, although Kolkata Knight Riders have been quite effective with seven attempts for 25 runs.
Time for Little to come back?
Unless there is a fitness concern with Josh Little, Titans have been going with the Dasun Shanaka-Yash Dayal/Darshan Nalkande combination only to give a bowling option as a failsafe as Hardik Pandya has now gone four matches without bowling. Because if they are playing Shanaka as a pure batter, it says something of the confidence they have in Abhinav Manohar and Sai Sudharsan.
Titans have shown they are not a team to make knee-jerk reactions. They will go back to trusting their bowlers, three of whom are experienced and near the top of their game. They won't go for funky fields or big changes. They have won 22 matches out of 31 with pretty much the same core. They will ask for Mumbai to do all the running, and back themselves to be good enough in home conditions to get the better of them.
Titans need to sort out Nos. 3 to 5
Perhaps Hardik wanted to be the man for the tough fight on the big night, but Vijay Shankar was probably better suited for the No. 3 slot in their defeat in Qualifier 1 against Chennai Super Kings. Either way, Titans are better served to have Hardik, Shankar and David Miller as the engine room from Nos. 3 to 5. Even if Shanaka has to play, he is a better fit in the slot he takes for Sri Lanka, in the lower middle order.
Win the toss and?
Interestingly, three out of the five night matches in Ahmedabad have been won by sides batting first. More interestingly, the powerplay of the second innings seems to be the toughest time to bat in Ahmedabad with an economy rate of 6.27 and an average of 14.12. In the league match, Titans defended 207 easily against Mumbai. If there is no dew on the days leading up to the match, there might be a case for batting first. Mumbai might want to chase anyway.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo