With two wins each in the first half of the season, there is little breathing room for either Royal Challengers Bangalore or Mumbai Indians in their last seven league games. Realistically, both will need to win six of those seven remaining games to have a shot at making the playoffs.
That makes this head-on clash critical to the fortunes of both the teams.
Mumbai won their last game while RCB lost theirs, but both gained positives from belatedly embracing change. Mumbai left out Kieron Pollard to rejig an underperforming middle order, while Royal Challengers included Tim Southee and strengthened what had till then been one of the worst bowling attacks in the competition.
The Pollard exclusion hasn’t been fully tested yet, since Mumbai only lost two wickets in their chase against Chennai Super Kings, but their batting order – with Ben Cutting also slotting in, in place of Mustafizur Rahman – looked ominous, with serious hitting ability all the way down to No. 8.
The Southee inclusion helped RCB gain some control against Kolkata Knight Riders’ top order in what Brendon McCullum felt were “probably the best ten overs we’ve had as a [bowling] group”. That it didn’t translate to a win shouldn’t dishearten RCB too much, as they attempt to take whatever positive energy they can muster into their last home game until May 17.
In the news
RCB’s stores of positive energy will be greatly enhanced if AB de Villiers, who missed their game on Sunday night with viral fever, has recovered enough to slot back into their line-up.
Rohit Sharma’s 94 off 52 propelled Mumbai to 213 for 6. With wickets tumbling at the other end, Virat Kohli’s rather more pedestrian 92 off 62 ended up as an exercise to minimise Royal Challengers’ net-run-rate damage.
Royal Challengers Bangalore: 1 Quinton de Kock (wk), 2 Virat Kohli (capt), 3 AB de Villiers, 4 Manan Vohra, 5 Mandeep Singh, 6 Colin de Grandhomme, 7 Tim Southee, 8 M Ashwin, 9 Umesh Yadav, 10 Yuzvendra Chahal, 11 Mohammed Siraj
Mumbai Indians: 1 Suryakumar Yadav, 2 Evin Lewis, 3 Rohit Sharma (capt), 4 Ishan Kishan (wk), 5 JP Duminy, 6 Hardik Pandya, 7 Krunal Pandya, 8 Ben Cutting, 9 Mitchell McClenaghan, 10 Mayank Markande, 11 Jasprit Bumrah
RCB have been the worst bowling team in the death overs this season, conceding 13.19 runs per over and a boundary every 3.3 balls. Mumbai’s misfiring middle order has meant they are second from bottom among batting sides at the death, scoring only 8.33 runs per over while losing a wicket every 13.7 balls.
Mumbai, however, have rejigged their middle order, with JP Duminy and Ben Cutting featuring in the starting XI in the side’s last game against Super Kings. Given how badly RCB have struggled as a bowling side, Mumbai could consider retaining the same line-up, which sacrificed a frontline bowler to gain batting depth, and give themselves the license to hit out from ball one.
They could, however, bring back Mustafizur Rahman (against whom de Villiers has a T20 strike rate of 94.7) for Mitchell McClenaghan (v de Villiers, strike rate 191.2).
Stats that matter
Mumbai have won each of the last five meetings between the two sides, and have a 16-8 win-loss record against RCB overall.
Suryakumar Yadav has been involved in Mumbai’s highest partnership in six of their seven matches so far.
The second spinner has been one of the many problem areas for RCB this season. While Yuzvendra Chahal has been the team’s most economical bowler this season (7.92), the other spinners – M Ashwin, Washington Sundar and Pawan Negi – have combined to concede 9.70 per over while picking up seven wickets at an average of 37.43.
Since 2015, Rohit Sharma has averaged 44.9 and struck at 142.8 in matches Mumbai have won. In losses, the corresponding figures are 23.0 and 125.5, which tells you how much his team depends on his runs.
The M Chinnaswamy Stadium is no longer the fortress it used to be. Since the start of the 2017 season, RCB have won only three of their 11 matches here. Where the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad has been the venue most congenial to the home side in this period (Sunrisers Hyderabad have won nine out of 11 games there), the Chinnaswamy has been the second-worst, behind the SCA Stadium in Rajkot, where Gujarat Lions lost four out of their five games last year.
JP Duminy didn’t get to bat in Mumbai’s last game, but he remains a good fantasy selection given his record in Bengaluru: he has played four IPL games here and passed 40 three times, with a highest of 67 not out, all this while striking at 169.07.
“He has been performing well at all positions, not only as an opener, but one down or two down. In the last game, he came up to No. 3. It was his responsibility. In the coming games, we’ll see more of it.”
Suryakumar Yadav, Mumbai’s top-scorer so far, on Rohit Sharma’s batting position