After a three-year absence, the Indian Premier League (IPL) will return to the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium and we could not have asked for a better fixture to kick things off. Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) have been consistent in the IPL for the last three seasons, having qualified for the playoffs each time. Mumbai Indians (MI), who have won nine of their 12 IPL games at this venue will hope that they put the horror of last season behind them and would not mind kicking off their campaign in Bengaluru.
MI have been the worst-hit team, injury-wise, this season. They do not have their premier fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah and also Jason Behrendorff at their disposal, which is certainly a blow. But at the same time, this provides an opportunity for someone else to step up. MI went big at the auction for Cameron Green, on whom they splashed INR 17.50 crore. Along with Tim David, the Australian duo will hope to play the role Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya once played for them.
RCB too have been hit by player injuries and unavailability as Josh Hazlewood, Glenn Maxwell and Wanindu Hasaranga are unavailable and the team will have to at least temporarily cope without them. However, Maxwell has been cleared to play the season opener, but it will be interesting to see if RCB throw him in right away. If they do not want to risk it, they have Michael Bracewell who can fit in.
Pitch & conditions
It promises to be another high-scoring game at the Chinnaswamy Stadium with average score batting first here in T20s since 2018 being 180, while the average match-winning score batting first is 192.
However, team chasing has gone on to win nine out of the 17 T20 matches here since 2018 and it will not be surprising if the captain elects to bowl first. In the last five completed T20 matches here, the team batting second have gone on to win thrice.
While the spinners (8) have been far more economical than the pacers (9.7) in T20s since 2018 at this venue, the latter have managed to pick up 60% of the wickets here.
Things to watch out for
Unleash Jofra Archer
MI spent a bomb to get Jofra Archer on board in the IPL 2022 auction. While he could not participate due to injury, his team need him to fire right from the beginning of this season. Excelling in the IPL has never been a problem for Archer, who has picked up 46 wickets from 35 matches in the tournament so far.
He is predominantly used in the powerplay and the death, accounting for 37 wickets in those two phases. He has proved to be nearly unplayable in the powerplay, having picked up 17 scalps at an economy rate of 5.4
Second season syndrome for Tilak?
Tilak Varma had a breakout season in 2022, scoring 397 runs at 36 to go with a strike-rate of 131, finishing as the second run-getter for his team last year. Among MI batters, only Quinton de Kock (529) and Sanath Jayasuriya (514) have scored more in a season than Tilak.
However, we have seen in the past with many players like Paul Valthaty, Swapnil Asnodkar and a few others, who have failed to replicate their performance from their breakout season and fade away. MI will hope that it is not the case with Tilak. His ability to bludgeon the spinners puts him in pole position to perhaps bat at No. 3 with Suryakumar Yadav dropping down to four.
Can Harshal bounce back?
While Harshal Patel finds himself out in the cold when it comes to his T20I spot, the only way he can potentially get back in the blue jersey is with a solid performance in the IPL. He is no stranger to that, having done exceedingly well in the last two seasons. No bowler has picked up more wickets (51) than Harshal in IPL since 2021 and has especially been severe at the death, accounting for 31 wickets – 11 more than the second-best Dwayne Bravo – at an economy rate of 9.1.
The reason for his success has been his execution of the off-cutters, through which he has picked up 33 wickets at 11.1 in the last two seasons. Another good season for Harshal could see RCB once again remain in contention for the elusive trophy.
Weakness against spin
MI will look to make the best of their spinners against Virat Kohli and Faf du Plessis. Among those to have scored at least 100 runs against spinners, Kohli (108) and du Plessis’ (127) strike-rates was among the worst. MI can potentially use spinners against Kohli and du Plessis in the powerplay which could be even more fatal. While Kohli strikes at 109, du Plessis, on the other hand has struck at a mere 93 against spin in overs 1-6.
Introduce Harshal early?
While Harshal Patel has predominantly been used in the middle and the death by RCB, could it be a gamble worth taking by introducing him early on especially against Rohit? The MI captain has fallen prey to the fast bowler thrice in six innings. Rohit has scored at an average of nine and strike-rate of just 117 against Harshal. On the flipside, RCB could miss an over or two from Harshal in the middle or at the death, where he has in general been lethal over the last couple of seasons.
RCB have plenty of ponder when it comes to picking their XI. Hasaranga is on international duty, while the Aussie duo of Hazlewood and Maxwell are certain to miss this game due to injuries. Hazlewood though could face a length lay-off. As a result, we could see RCB pick four of their five available overseas players in the XI. Among the Indian contingent, they do not have Rajat Patidar for a few matches due to an injury and could slot in Anuj Rawat either as an opener or at No. 3
RCB likely XI: Faf du Plessis (c), Finn Allen, Virat Kohli, Mahipal Lomror, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Michael Bracewell/Glenn Maxwell, Shahbaz Ahmed, Harshal Patel, Reece Topley/David Willey, Karn Sharma, Mohammed Siraj
MI have to dig deep into their squad, with a couple of injuries messing up their combination. There could be a debut for left-arm pacer Duan Jansen as a result, but one cannot rule out Dewald Brewis’ inclusion if MI feel there is a need to further strengthen their batting.
MI likely XI: Rohit Sharma (c), Ishan Kishan (WK), Tilak Verma, Suryakumar Yadav, Cameron Green, Tim David, Jofra Archer, Duan Jansen, Hrithik Shokeen/Shams Mulani, Ramandeep Singh, Kumar Kartikeya