Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knight Riders had contrasting starts to the second half of the Indian Premier League 2021. The five-time champions, who are generally slow starters, made quite a few mistakes against Chennai Super Kings and lost the game by 20 runs despite having the Men in Yellow on the mat at the starting phase of the encounter. Meanwhile, Kolkata fired on all cylinders against Royal Challengers Bangalore and won the match with 60 deliveries to spare, their biggest win ever in terms of balls remaining. The two sides will now come face to face on Thursday (September 23) at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi.
Rohit set to return, but what about Hardik?
The defending champions surely felt the absence of their skipper Rohit Sharma and ace allrounder Hardik Pandya against Chennai. "Rohit was batting and doing his running, after coming back from the UK, we probably felt he needed extra few days so he should be fine to play the next game. Hardik was training, had a niggle, so precaution and giving him extra days, not nothing serious," said Mumbai head coach Mahela Jayawardene.
Mumbai played young Anmolpreet Singh and Saurabh Tiwary against Chennai and despite trying their best, the two couldn’t really make an impact. Anmolpreet, 23, played a couple of impressive shots during his stay in the middle, while Jharkhand’s Tiwary did score a fifty but never looked threatening. Hardik struggled big time in the first leg of the tournament and could only score 52 runs at an average of 8.67. On top of that, he hasn’t bowled a single delivery in IPL since 2020 and his form and fitness is not just going to be crucial for Mumbai, but also for India in the upcoming T20 World Cup.
Kishan and Krunal continue to struggle
Mumbai will also be concerned about Ishan Kishan and Krunal Pandya who haven’t really fired this season. On sluggish wickets in the first half, Kishan managed only 73 runs in five games at a strike rate of 83. Mumbai dropped him in the subsequent two games. The dynamic left-handed batter, who is part of India's T20 World Cup squad, made 11 off 10 deliveries and Mumbai would want him to replicate what he did in IPL 2020 at the same venues. Kishan was their leading run-scorer (516) and tournament's leading six-hitter (30) last season.
The other player who has been inconsistent of late is Krunal. In IPL since 2020, the spin-bowling all-rounder has scored only 213 runs in 20 innings at a mediocre average of 16.38 and a strike rate of 123.1. In the bowling department, Krunal has only picked nine wickets at an average of 59.4 and an economy rate of 7.7. Amongst bowlers who have bowled at least 50 overs in this times frame, Krunal has the worst average and strike rate. Mumbai have been far from their best in this edition, but again, you can never rule them out.
Kolkata's dependable spin duo
The two-time champions won only two of their first seven encounters but have started the UAE leg on an astonishing note. Kolkata bundled out Bangalore for just 92 before Shubman Gill and debutant Venkatesh Iyer put on 82 runs for the opening wicket completed the formalities. The two batters batted with intent, which Kolkata lacked in the first leg, but the victory was set up by their bowlers. Andre Russell and Lockie Ferguson claimed five wickets between them but it’s the spin combination of Varun Chakravarthy and Sunil Narine that could cause a serious impact in the next few weeks.
Having been picked for the World Cup, which will be played in the UAE and Oman straight after the end of IPL, Chakravarthy proved his worth once again on Monday. The mystery spinner from Tamil Nadu claimed three wickets and choked Bangalore in the middle overs along with Narine. The two spinners have been consistent in the shortest format of the game and it’s not going to be easy for the batsmen to tackle them, especially while bowling in tandem. In T20s since 2020, Chakravarthy has an economy of 6.8, while Narine has leaked runs at just six runs per over.
The latter hasn't picked enough wickets but has been super economical. Narine operated at an economy of just 4.37 in the recently concluded Caribbean Premier League 2021 and also conceded only 20 runs in his four overs against Bangalore. Eoin Morgan only used five bowlers in their last game but if needed, Iyer and Nitish Rana can also chip in. The left-hander from Madhya Pradesh, Iyer, provided Kolkata that much-needed boost in the powerplay, while Gill too was a lot more aggressive. The Knight Riders couldn’t have asked for a better start and would now look to build on this momentum to push themselves to the top half of the points table.
Mumbai: Quinton de Kock (wk), Rohit Sharma (c), Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan, Kieron Pollard, Saurabh Tiwary/Hardik Pandya, Krunal Pandya, Adam Milne, Rahul Chahar, Jasprit Bumrah, Trent Boult
Kolkata: Shubman Gill, Venkatesh Iyer, Nitish Rana, Rahul Tripathi, Eoin Morgan (c), Andre Russell, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Sunil Narine, Lockie Ferguson, Varun Chakravarthy, Prasidh Krishna