Pune: After finding their mojo against a lowly Deccan Chargers, Mumbai Indians will look to take advantage of Pune Warriors India's three-match losing run and pocket crucial points on Thursday as the race to the Indian Premier League play-offs intensifies.
On the whole, Mumbai's performance cannot be termed as path-breaking, but the team, especially captain Harbhajan Singh, lifted itself up in the last match against Deccan. In fact, Harbhajan’s spell of 2 for 13 in four overs was the biggest plus in a win that pushed Mumbai up to third in the points table with 10 points from nine games.
Mumbai's major worry is their batting, with only Rohit Sharma and Ambati Rayudu close to consistency. Sachin Tendulkar hasn't done anything big this season, especially after returning from the finger injury. Richard Levi has been in and out of the team, while the likes of Dinesh Karthik and Kieron Pollard have been at best patchy.
It's their bowling that has earned them most of their victories, like in the last match when Lasith Malinga's 4 for 16 bundled Deccan up for 100. The Sri Lankan, who is second on the list of highest wicket-takers, has so far 15 victims in his kitty. Munaf Patel has supported him well with 11 wickets and Pollard has been more a bowler than a batsman this season with 11 wickets as well. And with Harbhajan showing signs of finding form as well, Mumbai look set to hit an upward curve in the league's second half, provided the batsmen support their in-form bowlers.
Pune, on the other hand, have some catching up to do with four wins and six losses in the 10 matches played so far. Out of those six losses, three have come in the last three matches, which gives Sourav Ganguly enough food for thought. As a result, a team that looked set to challenge the big guns' supremacy is now languishing at the seventh spot on the leaderboard.
But being bunched on points (8) with Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab, and just one point behind Chennai Super Kings and Royal Challengers Bangalore, Pune are still in with a chance to finish in the top four. However, they have to quickly find the right team combination before it gets too late.
Michael Clarke came in for the in-form Jesse Ryder in the last match against Deccan. And though the Australian captain hit an impressive 41 on his IPL debut, keeping the big-hitting Ryder out may not be the wisest thing to do. Using Robin Uthappa as a floater hasn't worked for Pune and they need to be decisive about his position for him to make any impact. That leaves Steven Smith as the only man who could be relied upon for runs.
Ashish Nehra has looked a spent force for most part and Ganguly overused himself with the ball in his last match, which cost his team 39 runs in the three overs he bowled. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has bowled economically with not much in the wickets column. Wayne Parnell, who played the last match, impressed but why he was preferred over Alfonso Thomas was beyond comprehension.
So while Thomas and Dinda are expected to return in place of Parnell and Nehra respectively, Pune will have to also seriously think about using Smith and Clarke as part-time spinning options, which can turn things around for them on the slow, low Indian tracks.
However, it can't be said that Mumbai have an edge over Pune considering the up and down run the CLT20 champions have had. That, in effect, makes it anybody's game on Thursday.
Pune Warriors India: 1 Jesse Ryder, 2 Michael Clarke, 3 Sourav Ganguly (c), 4 Robin Uthappa (wk), 5 Steven Smith, 6 Manish Pandey, 7 Mithun Manhas, 8 Murali Kartik, 9 Alfonso Thomas, 10 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 11 Ashok Dinda
Mumbai Indians 1 Richard Levi, 2 Sachin Tendulkar, 3 Rohit Sharma, 4 Ambati Rayudu, 5 James Franklin, 6 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 7 Robin Peterson, 8 Harbhajan Singh (c), 9 Lasith Malinga, 10 RP Singh, 11 Munaf Patel