The tenth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) will kick start the closure campaign with Mumbai Indians (MI) and Rising Pune Supergiant (RPS) fighting in the Qualifier 1 slated to be played at the iconic Wankhede Stadium on Tuesday.

The winner of this game will directly qualify for the final of the IPL 2017 that will be played at Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in Hyderabad on May 21.

With 20 points from 14 matches, Mumbai Indians was the first team to seal a berth in the playoffs this year. Rohit Sharma led Mumbai accelerated from the word ‘play’ and looks determined to win the coveted IPL trophy for the third time — won in the year 2013 and 2015.

Contrary, Rising Pune Supergiant started their IPL run with disappointing losses and gradually got into the groove to finish second in the points table.

Steve Smith led Supergiant was the last team to seal playoff spot after they destroyed Kings XI Punjab — won by 9 wickets after bowling them out for meagre 73 — in their last league game on Sunday.

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Without a hint of an eyebrow, it will be purely fair to say that Mumbai Indians has been on a roll this entire IPL season. So much that the Rohit Sharma made six changes — brought Ambati Rayudu, Krunal Pandya, Mitchell Johnson, Vinay Kumar, Saurabh Tiwary and Tim Southee — to their final playing XI in their last IPL fixture to defeat the flamboyance of Kolkata Knight Riders also became the first franchise to register 100 wins in T20 cricket.

Apart to those statistics, Mumbai Indians will enter the game aware of the fact that they have lost both their league matches against the likes Rising Pune Supergiant earlier in the tournament.

Mumbai Indians Coach Mahela Jayawardene must be concerned with the fact and his advice to the team will be to just keep believing in their instincts and back each other — just the way they have repeated in almost every game so far.

The backbone of Mumbai Indians lies in the strength of their middle order that is good enough to make their openers solid performance look a little meek — a good problem to have in a team, while most of the team in this years’ IPL suffered due to middle order collapse.

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The balanced Mumbai Indians top-order has Parthiv Patel and Lendl Simmons who have been very instrumental in proving the good start to the team during the Power Play.

Parthiv Patel with 325 runs in 13 matches is having the best IPL season so far. He is well supported by Simmons — 126 runs in 4 matches — after Jos Buttler returned for national duty to England.

After the stable openers come the coveted middle order of Mumbai Indians that runs very deep in their batting line up, almost until the very end with Harbhajan Singh.

The good news for the team and Mumbai fans is the return of form for their skipper Rohit Sharma.

The right-handed batsman was very disappointing with the bat during the first half of their campaign. Thankfully as the season is nearing the climax, Rohit Sharma — 282 runs from 14 matches — has picked the pace and hints of a big inning waiting to be unleashed.

The astounding figures of this year’s revelation Nitish Rana (333 runs in 13 matches) and Kieron Pollard (362 runs in 14 matches) completes the success story of a team that has come cashed on the stable starts provided by their openers.

The possession of the Pandya brothers also makes Mumbai a formidable side for their opponents.

While both Hardik and Krunal Pandya have been the trump card for Rohit Sharma in the field with their economical bowling and athletic fielding. The brother duo has also been very successful with their batting cameos during the slog overs.

Together the two have scalped 16 wickets and 362 runs, making them the most successful brother pair in the IPL so far.

Besides the batting prowess, Coach Mahela Jayawardene will be very pleased with the way their bowlers.

The disciplined Mumbai bowlers compliment the runs put on board by the team with their exuberant all round performance.

The disciplined performances by — Jasprit Bumrah (15 wickets), Harbhajan Singh (8 wickets), Lasith Malinga (9 wickets) and Mitchell McClenaghan (18 wickets) — have together transformed the fortunes for the Mumbai Indians.

With all the frontline pace bowlers given rest ahead of the qualifier against RPS, the speedsters will be eager to hit the road at their destructive best on Tuesday.

Mumbai is a very fine balance of experience and talent; together it is a mighty force that will settle at nothing except the coveted IPL 2017 trophy.

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Contrary to their last IPL edition outing, Rising Pune Supergiant — finished second-last in the points table — has a turnaround of fate and might go on to clinch their maiden IPL trophy this season.

With 18 points from 14 games and second in the points table, makes them eligible to directly qualify for the season finale slated for May 21. Even a loss against Mumbai Indians will give them a shot at the final as they will get to play the winner of the eliminator match between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Kolkata Knight Riders.

However, Coach Stephen Fleming will want to continue the winning run despite the team has a big shoe of Ben Stokes to fill ahead of their game on Tuesday.

The English all-rounder Stokes has been a show stopper with winning performance for the Pune Supergiant both with the bowl and the bat in this season.

The Englishman — 312 runs and 12 wickets in 12 matches (includes 103*) — has left to join the rest of the England squad for the national duty.

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Coach Fleming along with Captain Steve Smith will be required to get back to the drawing board to finalise the script for the rest of their IPL campaign.

Despite getting to the playoff stage, Pune is still battling inconsistency that runs parallel to their batting line up.

Starting with the opening slot, Rahul Tripathi and Ajinkya Rahane have looked good but failed to convert the start to a big score so far.

Rahul Tripathi — 388 runs in 12 matches — has been the revelation for Pune and the selectors. The flamboyant strike maker helps the team with flying start but fails to keep a value on his wicket.

His partner at the other end is the experienced Rahane — 282 runs in 14 matches — who has so far only hinted to anchor his inning but loses discipline at the key juncture of the game — notably when the team has just lost a wicket.

Stephan Fleming will want one of them to stay at the wicket for longer haul of time and keep ticking the scoreboard.

The good news comes with the skipper Steven Smith batting at number three slot. The Australian cricketer — 420 runs in 13 matches —  has found his form and makes the backbone of the middle order of Pune Supergiant.

Smith will have to keep leading from the front and possibly fill in for Stokes with his batting prowess.

Batting down the order MS Dhoni and Manoj Tiwary will have to keep the vigil for a strong finish for the team.

Both Dhoni (240 runs in 14 matches) and Tiwary (259 runs in 13 matches) seems to be batting under pressure and not able to score freely this entire season.

Wicketkeeper-batsman Dhoni has looked a little vulnerable against the leg spinners and tries to go hard at them early on. He needs to keep rotating strikes at the start of his inning and then launch the mayhem he is known for once settled in the pitch.

The bowling attack for Pune will be led by Jaydev Unadkat, Dan Christian and Shardul Thakur.

Unadkat — 21 wickets in 10 matches — in particular, has been very affluent every since he has held the bowl in hand for the Pune Supergiant.

Pune has lost Imran Tahir — 18 wickets in 12 matches as the 37-year old leg-spinner has left to join South Africa cricket team for national duty.

Smith has already played Adam Zampa — 5 wickets in 4 matches — after Tahir’s departure. The Australian leggie has been economical but far less sharp than his usual self so far.

With limited resources, Steve Smith will have to manoeuvre his troops with precision as the Mumbai batsmen have shown that all they need is a small opening to unleash fury on their opponents.

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The Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai will be jam packed with supporters for the home side led by Rohit Sharma.

With so much at stake, Steve Smith will leave no stone unturned to write the fairytale of the dark horse called Rising Pune Supergiant.

For a short closure, expect a game for exhibition tonight.

First Published | 16 May 2017 2:13 AM
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