Heavyweights raring to go

Heavyweights raring to go

Royal Challengers and Mumbai lock horns for first time with plenty to play for

Heavyweights raring to go

Last Sunday was not for the faint-hearted as the Indian Premier League dished out two edge-of-the-seat thrillers that threatened and tested nails and nerves of both players and fans.

Royal Challengers Bangalore and Mumbai Indians, who scripted those two Houdini Acts with AB de Villiers and Dwayne Smith respectively ushering in miracles, will now clash for the first time this season in an intriguing match here on Wednesday.

A sea of blue is going to converge at the Wankhede stadium but it will take some effort to best the red and gold brigade, which appears a stronger side when the going gets tough. While the current edition of the IPL has churned out many nail-biting finishes, Royal Challengers themselves have showed great fortitude, snatching victories from some absolute hopeless situations.

The triumph against the Chargers on Sunday signalled that the team is made of sterner stuff. It highlighted the squad’s ability to shrug aside its excessive reliance on Gayle besides coping with Virat Kohli’s lukewarm willow.

Notwithstanding these come-from-behind wins, it must be said the Challengers, one of the strongest units in the IPL, haven’t fully bridged the gap between perception and reality over the last fortnight; imploding without as much of a sign, and on occasion exploding without any warning. Much of Challengers’ problems arise from the lack of bite in their attack and a largely mis-firing Indian batting unit. Bangalore’s bowling woes were amply reflected in the fact that regular skipper Daniel Vettori had to sit out the match against Chargers to make room for Muttiah Muralitharan so that they could strike some sort of balance.

While the wily off-spinner showed the stuff he is made of with his parsimonious ways, the rest of the bowlers, including newcomers A Mithun and Prashant Parameswaran, were way off the mark. An off-colour R Vinay Kumar, left out on Sunday, is sure to replace one of them though the same can’t be said about Vettori.

That means Kohli may once again be at the helm, an extra burden for a player already feeling the heat after a series of poor outings.

Challengers also need to revisit the way they are handling Mayank Agarwal, being shunted up and down the order on a regular basis. Clearly Asad Pathan had no business coming ahead of a more accomplished Agarwal who produced a little gem against Chargers towards the end of the chase.

In Mumbai Indians (14 points and perched at third spot), Challengers have a doughty foe to contend with and the home team by defeating defending champions Chennai Super Kings in both away and home games, has proved its hunger to go all the way. Smith’s sledge-hammer towards the end may have grabbed the limelight but more encouragingly for Harbhajan Singh’s men, Sachin Tendulkar’s spectacular 74 showed that the old fires are still burning strong.

It was a validation of Tendulkar’s core –– the supreme batsman –– while the days preceding that effort were marked by the branding exercise  which tailed his 100th 100 and the diverse views on his Rajya Sabha elevation. Tendulkar’s return to dominance and the presence of Rohit Sharma, AT Rayudu and Dinesh Kaarthick add varied layers to Mumbai Indians’ batting.

Malinga (20 wickets) true to his worth, will spearhead the attack and Harbhajan’s belated return to wicket-taking ways and improvement in Kieron Pollard’s fitness, should keep the Ambanis in good cheer.

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