Preview: Mumbai vs Pune, Match 21

April 20, 2011

On April 2nd 2011, Yuvraj Singh couldn’t contain his emotions in the middle of the Wankhede after what had undoubtedly been the finest moment of his cricketing life – getting the Man of the Series as India lifted the ICC World Cup. A teary-eyed Yuvraj had given a heartfelt dedication for the victory – “It was for Sachin” – he had said. And the nation had wept, rejoiced and savoured the moment and the dedication with him.

Less than three weeks later, both Yuvraj and Sachin are back at the Wankhede. This time though, they are opponents. Such is life in the IPL!

Pune Warriors

Pune have looked like a solid team in spite of their loss against Delhi. Their major areas of improvement are the bowling – which is good but can be exposed if confronted with a powerful batting line-up (which Mumbai have) – and the form of Graeme Smith. Smith is a valuable player at the top of the order for any side and he also brings the tactical and leadership qualities that any leader needs from his bunch of senior players. However, his form in the World Cup was patchy and in the IPL it has been underwhelming so far. Against Lasith Malinga’s deadly yorkers, Pune might even take a call to replace Smith with someone like Callum Ferguson. Pune will bank heavily on the hitting skills of Jesse Ryder, Yuvraj Singh and Robin Uthappa. All three are capable of turning a game on its head, and have the ability to hit long, hard and clean. To top that all three are all-rounders – with Uthappa bringing his wicket-keeping skills to the table and Yuvraj and Ryder more than capable of contributing valuable bowling overs. Yuvraj hit batting and bowling form against Delhi, and he will need to do it again. The good news for Pune is, he has been doing it rather regularly starting from the World Cup. Pune will also bank heavily on Wayne Parnell to give them early breakthroughs so that Mumbai’s batting can be checked.

Mumbai Indians

In spite of the loss against Kochi, they still remain the team to beat – at least so far in the IPL. In three outings, no opposition has managed to dismiss more than two Mumbai batsmen in their entire 20 overs. And no team has managed to dismiss Sachin Tendulkar even once. The greatly comforting thought for Mumbai is that even if they do lose more than two wickets the batting line-up that is to come after that reads Rohit Sharma, Andrew Symonds and Kieron Pollard – each one single-handedly capable of winning a game. The only real concern for Mumbai seems to be the weakness that the Kochi Tuskers exposed: if Malinga has an off-day, or is up against a batsman who can hit him – Mumbai’s bowling looks a different unit. Harbhajan Singh, Munaf Patel, Kieron Pollard et al have been support bowlers to Malinga’s incisive striking skills. However, if Mumbai want cover in case Malinga is not his usual self, they might want to consider strengthening the bowling. One way this can be done is if Cling McKay comes in place of Davy Jacobs in the line-up. It will be a little harsh on Jacobs, but in Rayudu, the Mumbai Indians have a man who can do the wicket-keeping duties and the likes of Rohit Sharma can easily be promoted to the opener’s slot. In any case, with a batting line-up as powerful as Mumbai’s, it is a gamble worth taking since an attack of Malinga, McKay, Harbhajan, Munaf that is backed by Pollard, Symonds and Rohit is a tough proposition for any opposition to deal with. Additionally, if McKay is taken instead of Jacobs, a spot can be found in the starting eleven for the talented Tirumalasetti Suman – who hasn’t had a game so far. He could come in place of Ali Murtaza, since Mumbai already have a host of spinning options.

Recent Form

Both teams are coming off losses in games they have batted first and scored in excess of 180 runs. That might prompt a re-think in strategies for both, with the think-tanks preferring to chase instead of bat first. Alternately, they could re-think their approach while batting first and go hell for leather even more than they have.

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