RCB, MI have plenty to play for

RCB, MI have plenty to play for

The last couple of contests between the Royal Challengers Bangalore and the Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede Stadium were overshadowed by incidents that the players involved in would not be too proud of.

In 2013, what should have been a perfectly legal run out of Ambati Rayudu was turned into a crowd-versus-Virat Kohli situation with Kieron Pollard -- who thought his Mumbai team-mate had been hard done by a collision with the bowler (R Vinay Kumar) -- asking the Bangalore captain to withdraw the appeal. Kohli didn’t and was booed by the home crowd.

In the next season, Pollard was once again in the think of action and this time he was having a go at Challengers’ pace spearhead Mitchell Starc. As the Aussie paceman ran in to bowl following an altercation between the two, Pollard pulled out of the delivery but the bowler, who was approaching his jump, followed the batsman and bowled the ball close to his legs.
Pollard swung his bat in a threatening manner and it slipped out of his hand. Both players were subsequently fined for their conduct.

So when the two teams clash in the return leg here on Sunday, you can expect sparks to fly, not the least because of their position in the fluid mid-table. With the league approaching its business end, both teams need to accrue as many points as possible, as at least three teams will be vying for one play-off place with Kolkata Knight Riders, Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals just a win away from sealing their last-four spots.   
Mumbai, with 12 points from 11 matches, are in the middle of a fine run wherein they have stitched together five consecutive wins. Having bearded the Super Kings in their own den in their last outing, Mumbai’s confidence will be sky high as they return to their fortress. Sri Lankan paceman Lasith Malinga, who couldn’t travel to Chennai for political reasons, will be back to bolster the home attack that has made steady improvement, just like their batting.
Parthiv Patel and Lendl Simmons have been growing in stature at the top of the order while skipper Rohit Sharma, Ambati Rayudu and Pollard have been consistent. Unearthing a new winner or two has been their hallmark and the Royal Challengers will have their task cut out on Sunday.

Starc, as has been the case in this tournament, will hold the key to their fortunes. The tall left-arm quick has the ability to douse Mumbai’s batting firepower and his 16 wickets from just seven games amply reflect how crucial he is to visitors’ set-up. Harshal Patel has come along nicely while S Arvind’s stunning comeback to IPL against Kings XI Punjab just bodes well for the Challengers.

Chris Gayle, obviously, will be the focus of Mumbai attack. Their think-tank will be burning mid-night oil, plotting his dismissal and don’t be surprised if off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, who can take the ball away from Gayle, comes in early in the innings or even opens the bowling. Gayle, not for the first time, exhibited his destructive batting against Kings XI (57-ball-117) and if the Jamaican gets going, he provides a different dimension to RCB batting. Along with Gayle, AB de Villiers and Kohli form the core of Challengers’ line-up but the rest of the unit has shown on more than one occasion that it could stand-up and be counted when the Big Three fail to fire.

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