In their last league game, Mumbai took on Kolkata with a reshaped squad to test their bench strength, having been confirmed as one of the team in Qualifier 1. A win would have ensured Kolkata a top two finish, meanwhile, SRH too comfortably won their last league game and went to number 2 in points table, and for them to stay there, they needed Mumbai to win their game against KKR and Kings XI to win their’s against RPS. The latter was more like a decider in which the loser has to pack home. But then, Pune was in no mood to just sneak into play offs and lack of stiff competition from Punjab helped Pune’s course. They jumped to second spot in the points table and gave themselves the best possible position in the play offs. They’ll take on the Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede Stadium. Barring the first spot, the other three were decided only after the penultimate league game.
The emergence of unlikely heroes
Pune did well to put behind their last season debacle where they finished second from last. Selecting and backing a player cannot be coined as a correct decision until the player steps up and performs. In that sense, Pune have made few correct decisions in this short time span. Washington Sundar has done a clean job with his off spin, especially in the power play overs. He is quick through the air and can vary his pace according to the batsmen and strategies. Ajinkya Rahane’s thin form has almost been unnoticed, Rahul Tripathi made it look so. From opening with one of the established batsman in IPL to scoring at a rate such that his partner’s flaws seldom get highlighted, Tripathi has sent a strong message across different camp’s that he is as dangerous as any other strikers in cricket. Skipper Steve Smith has led with his batting and Dhoni too has led from behind with his glove work. Pune will miss the service of Ben Stokes and Imran Tahir, who will face against each other for their nation in an ODI series. This has been the best IPL season for Shardul Thakur and Jaydev Unadkat. Smith would want them to continue the same in the knockouts.
Overwhelming favorites for the title
Mumbai shed their habit of blooming late and was the first team to enter playoffs this time. Rohit has the option to select among two players for each of their eleven spot, or that is how it looked like when Mumbai defeated KKR after making as many as six changes. With seasoned openers, a tested middle order, bankable all-rounders, dependable death bowlers and experienced spinners Mumbai looks like a complete team with all its bases covered. If the squad is taken a look, there is not one department that Pune can specifically attack or use to their advantage against MI. But it all boils down to execution on match day. As they say, the game of cricket is a great leveler. So the execution has to be correct from Mumbai or it will be their third defeat against RPS in this edition.
In his captains diary for the official KKR website, Gambhir mentioned about Harbhajan Singh’s tweet after Mumbai’s thriller against Kings XI at the Wankhede where nearly 460 runs were scored, 453 to be accurate, which read “Time is near when only bowling machines will b bowling, not bowlers”. The stadium is all set to witness another run fest. In the middle of six, fours and nerves spilling, the one who can hold their nerves longer can take their team to the finals, though the losing team will get another chance.