Time for Royal Challengers to flex their batting muscles

Bangalore team up against Mumbais versatile bowling attack

Time for Royal Challengers to flex their batting muscles

When the two teams go head to head at the magnificent DY Patil stadium here on Wednesday night, on the line is not only a place in the final of the third edition of the Indian Premier League, but also automatic qualification to the Champions League.

With Sachin Tendulkar masterminding their challenge through a wonderful admixture of typically awe-inspiring batsmanship and hitherto unadvertised inspirational leadership skills, the Indians took the league stage by storm.

Riding on a crest of home support – they played six of their first eight matches at the Brabourne stadium – the Indians swept all before them. A maiden semifinal appearance was buttoned down long before league action came to a halt; such is the confidence permeating the ranks that the table-toppers could afford to rest a clutch of certainties, including their captain, for Monday’s inconsequential game against the Kolkata Knight Riders.

The Royal ChallenGEARED UP: Kevin Pietersen is the key man in the Royal Challengers’ top-order. DH PHOTOgers, runners-up last year, have been one of several teams in IPL III struggling for consistency. Anil Kumble’s men began their campaign on a roaring note with four wins in their first five games. Since then, they have gradually gone south, scrambling desperately for points and making it through as the fourth-placed side only on nett run rate.

All that, needless to say, will count for precious little because the pressures of a knockout situation are completely different. The Challengers would like to think they are better placed in this regard because they have already had a taste of a semifinal tilt in South Africa last year, and have had to scramble into the knockout stage this year, thereby having come through a recent test of nerve and character.

By contrast, the Indians have seldom been stretched, young charges such as Ambati Rayudu and Saurabh Tiwary in particular having had the freedom to perform without attendant pressure. How well the duo, vital cogs in the middle-order, copes with a vastly different and unfamiliar situation will undoubtedly have a significant say in the outcome of the contest.

It is also debatable if the Indians embraced the right approach by leaving out five key men for their last league tie. Admittedly, having spent so much time on the road, the think-tank believed that it was best for the likes of Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Kieron Pollard and Lasith Malinga to take the game off and not travel to Kolkata. Saying that, Wednesday will determine if that was a masterstroke or a misadventure badly timed.

Technically, the DY Patil stadium is a neutral venue, but there will be no prizes for guessing which team Mumbaikars will be rooting for. The Challengers will inevitably miss the raucous home support that has stood them in such grand stead throughout the season, the late shift in the venue for the semifinals from their bastion at the Chinnaswamy stadium following Saturday’s bomb blasts hardly a welcome eventuality from their perspective. But there is enough experience in the ranks to tide over a hostile audience and a motivated opposition.

This could so easily unravel into a battle between the batting might of the Challengers, the envy of every team in the competition, and the versatile bowling unit under Tendulkar’s disposal – Zaheer, Harbhajan and Malinga all figure in the top seven wicket-takers. It’s time, then, for the Uthappas, the Taylors, the Kallis’ and the Pietersens to stand up and be counted.

Teams (from):
Royal Challengers Bangalore: Anil Kumble (capt), Jacques Kallis, Manish Pandey, Kevin Pietersen, Rahul Dravid, Robin Uthappa, Ross Taylor, Virat Kohli, R Vinay Kumar, Dale Steyn, Praveen Kumar, Pankaj Singh, Cameron White, A Mithun, Roelof van der Merwe, S Sriram, Mark Boucher, B Akhil, KP Appanna.

Mumbai Indians: Sachin Tendulkar (capt), Ryan McLaren, Shikhar Dhawan, Saurabh Tiwary, Ambati Rayudu, Jean-Paul Duminy, Kieron Pollard, R Sathish, Aditya Tare, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Lasith Malinga, Sanath Jayasuriya, Dwayne Bravo, Ali Murtaza, Dilhara Fernando, Dhawal Kulkarni, Chandan Madan, Abhishek Nayar.

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