Indian Premier League (IPL) 2017 is all set for the season’s finale between Rising Pune Supergiant (RPS) and Mumbai Indians (MI) to be played at the home ground of eliminated defending champions Sunrisers Hyderabad at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium on Sunday, May 21.
Pune Supergiant on Tuesday became the first team to reach the finals after they defeated Mumbai Indians by 20 runs in the first Qualifier.
Mumbai by virtue of being the points table leaders got another shot at the title clash and defeated Kolkata Knight Riders in the second Qualifier on Friday to seal a date in the final with RPS.
It is fair to say that no pundit would have guessed these two teams to make it to the final — at least not RPS for sure.
But here we are it is Maharashtra derby to decide the title winner for this IPL season.
Mumbai Indians first fought Rising Pune Supergiant on April 6 in their opening league game of the season and lost the match by 7 wickets despite posting 184/8 at Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium.
While the win for RPS meant a fresh start after their disappointing ‘wooden spoon’ triumph last year; it was fair to understand that the two times IPL winners Mumbai playing their conventional part — they have always been the late starters in the IPL.
This was different though, after suffering a loss in their first game, Rohit Sharma-led Mumbai Indians catapulted a nerve wrecking turnaround and won 6 matches on a trot — against Kolkata Knight Riders, Sunrisers Hyderabad, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Gujarat Lions, Kings XI Punjab and Delhi Daredevils.
Right when it seemed that Mumbai might ruin everyone’s sport and acquire the requisite points to qualify for the playoffs, their winning streak met with a familiar face — Rising Pune Supergiant.
Pune Supergiant once again defeated Mumbai playing in front of their home crowd by 3 runs — chasing 160 — in a nerve crunching game at Wankhede.
The process then repeats once again with the Mumbai heading the points table and again suffering defeat at the hands of Pune in the first Qualifier.
Having lost at all the three encounters so far, the million dollar question for Mumbai is — How to get past Rising Pune Supergiant juggernaut?
Coach Mahela Jayawardene and Captain Rohit Sharma must have gone over and over again to find a way to tame RPS.
They almost had Pune under their spell in the last encounter until Dhoni blasted crucial blows in the pivotal death overs — Mumbai leaked 41 runs to RPS off the last two overs.
Jayawardene must ask the entire Mumbai squad to forget the game and stick to a simple plan of doing the basics right and target key opponent players.
Let us break the way that Mumbai Indians will want to take against Pune Supergiant:
Mumbai Indians owe a big part of their success this season to the good starts that their openers have been giving them — consistently.
Both Parthiv Patel and Lendl Simmons might not be among the top run-getters but they have successfully weathered the storm during the Power Play overs without losing wickets.
Their stay in the wicket is laced with careful hitting by Parthiv (391 runs in 15 matches) while Simmons (134 runs in 6 matches) on the other hand takes the action back to the opposition bowlers with his free flowing clean strikes.
In the final against RPS, they will have to play sensibly against the in-form Jaydev Unadkat and Washington Sundar.
Batting at number three, Rohit Sharma is finally able to anchor the inning at one end but seems a little edgy and lacks the old destructive touch. Cleary the team and fans require more out of the stylish right-handed ‘Hitman’ in the last game of this season.
In the middle order, Mumbai’s decision of dropping Nitish Rana for the experience of Ambati Rayudu looks to be misfiring.
Rayudu has been introduced in the playing XI after he returned from the injury suffered during the initial stage of the IPL. Rana with 333 runs in 13 matches can be picked again for the crucial final match against Pune.
Mumbai will be happy with the way Kieron Pollard has batted throughout the season. The big-hitting batsman — 378 runs 16 matches — is an absolute bonus besides that he can bowl if required and his athletic presence in the field boosts the fielding standard in the deep throughout the game.
Pollard’s contribution to the team is also helping the Pandya brothers (Hardik and Krunal) to come and express freely during the death overs of the game.
In the second Qualifier against Kolkata Knight Riders, Krunal Pandya played a match-defining inning of 45*(30) to shape the game in Mumbai’s favor after they lost the top three with only 34 runs on the board.
Together Hardik and Krunal have scored 436 runs and scalped 16 wickets among themselves — certainly, the award for the most thriving sibling goes to Pandya brothers.
Mumbai Indians has a very defined and experienced bowling attack when compared to Pune Supergiant.
With Mitchell McClenaghan doubtful to play due to an injury, the pace attack of Mumbai will be spearheaded by Mitchell Johnson, Lasith Malinga and Jasprit Bumrah.
While all the three are match winners and bowl a much-disciplined attack; Malinga has been an expensive affair at times during the middle overs but instrumental in providing early breaks during the Power Play.
Playing in place of injured McClenaghan, Mitchell Johnson — 2 wickets for 28 runs in 4 overs — impressed the selectors with sheer pace and upfront attack.
Speaking of which, the man of the hour for Mumbai Indians is Karn Sharma who has presented a very strong case for himself with match-winning performance — 4 wickets for 16 runs — against KKR on Friday.
It will be interesting to see if Rohit Sharma goes with the experience of Harbhajan Singh (8 wickets in 11 matches) or chooses to reward the right-arm leg break bowler Karn Sharma for the final.
Rohit Sharma will also have to judicially use Krunal and Hardik Pandya during the middle overs of the game.
Given the chance, if Mumbai gets Pune top order cheaply, the Left-arm orthodox Krunal can be a handy customer to trouble the unsettled batsman on the crease.
This has been the most successful year for the Mumbai Indians plus the minor hiccups they faced against RPS.
Rohit Sharma and squad have been ruled out by Steve Smith led Rising Pune Supergiant on three occasions. There will be no better way to celebrate their third IPL title then to hold it over Pune on May 21.