We are heading into the business end of the inaugural edition of the Women's Premier League, and needless to say, the race to the top three spots is heating up.
After two riveting weeks of actions with plenty of ebbs and flows, the tournament had a break for a solitary day and it's all set for the final week with the Royal Challengers Bangalore taking on the Gujarat Giants in an evening encounter at the Brabourne Stadium.
The two teams endured a dismal start to the competition and are still struggling to find their groove after six league matches. However, in the last 48 hours, they have managed to turn their fortunes around and record a win each to stay alive in the competition.
It started with Kanika Ahuja's blitz against the UP Warriorz that helped the Challengers record their first win of the competition and followed it up with a clinical performance by the Giants to topple Meg Lanning's formidable Delhi Capitals at this very venue on March 16, Thursday.
While the Challengers will step on the field knowing that they cannot afford a slip-up as they are languishing at the bottom of the points table with only two points, the Giants will also put their qualification in jeopardy if they fail to get over the line in this high-pressure clash.
With fate hanging by a thread, it promises to be an exciting clash with two quality sides locking horns on a sultry evening in Mumbai.
Things to watch out for
Can the RCB skipper finally find form?
One of the significant reasons for the Bangalore outfit failing to create an impact in the tournament is the string of low scorers from their captain, Smriti Mandhana.
The southpaw has endured a torrid time in the competition, with the highest score of 35 in the first outing against the Delhi Capitals.
However, things have gone downhill for her and the franchise since then and with their backs up against the wall, the onus of the side will rely on her along with the overseas contingent of Ellyse Perry and Sophie Devine.
There ain't any doubt that Mandhana would be itching to make amends for her lukewarm performances in the competition and will step onto the Brabourne Stadium with a player on a mission.
Gujarat's struggle to find a second seamer
While an unfortunate injury to their skipper Beth Mooney in the opening clash against the Mumbai Indians rattled the Giants, they found an able skipper in Sneh Rana to lead the team in the last five games.
While the Giants have slowly settled with their playing XI, the role of the second seamer to shoulder the responsibility of the side along with Kim Garth has been an area of concern for the team.
The Gujarat side backed Annabel Sutherland and Mansi Joshi for the spot, but the duo have failed to make their mark in the competition.
While the Australian struggled for consistency, and the inclusion of Laura Wolvaardt resulted in her warming the bench, Mansi scalped only two wickets in five innings at an average of 44 and conceded at an economy rate of 11 runs per over, the third-worst in the league among bowlers with a minimum of five overs.
With the surface at the Brabourne Stadium slowly getting sluggish in nature and spinners or pacers bowling the cutters more useful, the Giants can consider bringing in someone like Hurley Gala as an all-rounder.
Pitch and conditions
The initial matches at this venue yielded a lot of runs, with the pitch conducive for strokeplay and the batters enjoying the shorter boundaries.
However, in the last couple of matches, the wickets have been on the slower side, and the spin bowlers have come into the game, making it challenging for some free-flowing strokes.
While the average score would still be around the 150-run mark and the dew factor set to play a major role in the second innings, the captains would want to field first and have a target ahead of them.
Smriti's horrific run against off-spinners
A match-up that will stay forever in Smriti Mandhana's career is her record against off-spin bowlers, especially Ash Gardner. In the 11 T20I innings, the 25-year-old has dismissed Mandhana on four occasions, the joint-most by any bowler in international cricket.
In the six matches of the WPL, the southpaw has been dismissed four times in six games against off-spinners, and it will not be a surprise if Gardner takes the new ball alongside Garth.
Can Challengers try Kanika Ahuja against Harleen Deol?
One of the most consistent Indian players in the league, Harleen Deol holds the key for the Giants in their batting department. The right-handed batter is the leading run-scorer for the side, with 186 runs in six innings at an average of 31 and a strike rate of 124.8.
The 24-year-old has been in sublime form in the league, and if the Challengers hope to get the better of the Giants, they will need to get Harleen out for a cheap score.
While she has been solid at number three, she has been tentative against left-arm spin and averages only 13.3 in T20Is. She has been dismissed thrice in eight games, and this would surely tempt Mandhana to throw the ball to Kanika Ahuja early in her innings.
With their first win of the tournament, the Royal Challengers Bangalore will most likely field an unchanged playing XI.
Predicted XI:cSmriti Mandhana (Captain), Sophie Devine, Ellyse Perry, Heather Knight, Disha Kasat, Richa Ghosh (WK), Kanika Ahuja, Shreyanka Patil, Megan Schutt, Asha Shobana, Renuka Thakur.
The Giants will also back the same set of players who helped them record a famous win against the Delhi Capitals.
Predicted XI: Sophia Dunkley, Laura Wolvaardt, Harleen Deol, Ashleigh Gardner, Dayalan Hemalatha, Sneh Rana (Captain), Sushma Verma (wk), Kim Garth, Tanuja Kanwar, Mansi Joshi, Ashwani Kumari