Rohit Sharma wants the Mumbai Indians to be free and fearless. At the stage they are at, they may as well be, because even two wins can’t guarantee an automatic playoffs berth because their net run rate is quite poor. They can take a cue from their opponents, the Rajasthan Royals, who exhibited these virtues in making a mockery of a chase of 190 against the Chennai Super Kings two nights ago.
Unlike Mumbai, the Royals are better placed simply because they can control their own fate. Wins in both their games will take them to 14 points; it will be good enough to secure qualification because it will mean neither Mumbai nor the Kolkata Knight Riders can force a three-way shootout on points.
Mumbai haven’t been helped by their key batters going off the boil. Rohit Sharma is yet to hit top hear in the UAE leg, Quinton de Kock has wasted starts barring the one half-century, Suryakumar Yadav seems a pale version of his IPL 2020 avatar, and Ishan Kishan, another standout performer during their title-winning run last year, now can’t even find a place in their XI.
This has meant Kieron Pollard hasn’t been able to intimidate oppositions in his usual manner because he’s mostly walking in to avert a collapse. It’s arguable, meanwhile, that Hardik Pandya’s batting prowess hasn’t been fully utilised, especially considering that is his only role in the team currently. Should Mumbai try shake things up and give him the license to go big much earlier than he usually would?
The Royals shredded their go-cautious template in some style against the Super Kings, well aware that wins and only wins can keep them in the reckoning. This approach has been evident in the UAE leg, where their new opening pair of Evin Lewis and Yashasvi Jaiswal have put on 225 runs in five innings at 10.54 per over. During the India leg, the Royals tried out three opening pairs, who together put on 161 runs in seven innings at a modest 6.85 per over.
Another reason the Royals are still in the reckoning is Sanju Samson’s form. Far too often, Samson has hit rough patches after starting tournaments well. Here, he is 20 short of 500 runs and is among the leading run-getters this season. And while compiling his most prolific IPL season yet, he’s scored his runs at a strike rate of nearly 140. Does he have two more big knocks in him to help take his side through?
If Royals beat Mumbai, they will join Knight Riders on 12 points, and the Royals-Knight Riders game on Thursday will then be a shootout to decide fourth place – the winner will qualify and the loser will be out.
If Mumbai beat Royals, then Mumbai’s chances of qualification will obviously improve. They will qualify for sure if they beat Sunrisers in their last game, and if Royals beat Knight Riders. However, if Knight Riders beat Royals, Mumbai will almost certainly be knocked out because of their poor net run rate.
If Mumbai beat Royals but lose to Sunrisers, and if Royals beat Knight Riders, then three teams will be tied on 12. Punjab Kings would join them too if they beat Chennai Super Kings. In that case, again, Knight Riders’ superior NRR should see them through.
Mumbai Indians: 1 Rohit Sharma (capt), 2 Quinton de Kock (wk), 3 Suryakumar Yadav, 4 Saurabh Tiwary, 5 Kieron Pollard, 6 Hardik Pandya, 7 Krunal Pandya/Nathan Coulter-Nile, 8 Jayant Yadav, 9 Rahul Chahar, 10 Jasprit Bumrah, 11 Trent Boult
Rajasthan Royals: 1 Evin Lewis, 2 Yashasvi Jaiswal, 3 Sanju Samson (capt & wk), 4 Shivam Dube, 5 Glenn Phillips, 6 David Miller, 7 Rahul Tewatia, 8 Akash Singh/Jaydev Unadkat, 9 Mayank Markande, 10 Mustafizur Rahman, 11 Chetan Sakariya
- Evin Lewis has been in prolific form, with a strike rate of 189.65 in the powerplay, the best among all batters with over 100 runs in that phase this season. However, Lewis has been out twice while trying to pull the short ball. Can Mumbai use Jasprit Bumrah’s pace for two overs inside the powerplay to try and rattle him?
- Trent Boult has taken 18 powerplay wickets for Mumbai in the UAE, and 15 of them have come in matches they have won. Of the nine matches in which he’s failed to strike in the powerplay, however, Mumbai have won only three. So while Lewis and Jaiswal have gained plenty of success with an aggressive approach, they might want to show a little more caution against Boult.
Stats that matter
- Barring Rohit and de Kock, no Mumbai batter has crossed the 250-run mark for the season. All their batters, meanwhile, have combined to pass 50 only six times, with only de Kock doing so more than once.
- Krunal Pandya has only picked up five wickets so far in 11 innings, which is his lowest tally for any IPL season. His economy rate of 7.74 is also his worst in any season.
- Since the IPL’s resumption in the UAE, the Royals have scored at 8.8 runs an over inside the Powerplay, and also average 44 in the phase. No team has scored quicker than them in this phase. Royals have also found the boundary every 4.4 balls in this phase in the UAE, and no team has bettered that.
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo