Mumbai: Both Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knight Riders are coming off desperate but clinical wins in their last league game in IPL 6, but on Tuesday, when these two meet, KKR will be the one living on the edge as a loss will put an end to their title defence.
Mumbai toppled Chennai Super Kings by an overwhelming 60 runs to stay in the top half of the points table, whereas KKR got over the line against Rajasthan Royals by an equally impressive 8 wickets to keep their play-off hopes mathematically alive. The win against CSK was Mumbai's fifth in as many games at home, taking them to 14 points, whereas despite beating Rajasthan, Kolkata remain in the lower half with 8 points from 11 matches.
The Gautam Gambhir-led defending champions will not only be fighting a desperate situation but also the stats loaded heavily against them. Of the 11 matches Kolkata have played against Mumbai, they have won just twice and lost on the other nine occasions. The last encounter between these two here at the Wankhede Stadium last year was marred with controversy and ended with KKR owner Shah Rukh Khan being slapped with a five-year ban from entering the venue.
But KKR will be concentrating more on the field than off it in this must-win situation. The concern for them will be their batting, which has blown hot and cold this season, against Mumbai's in-form bowlers.
Captain Gambhir began the season in style, stroking three half-centuries in four games but has struggled to maintain that consistency. The burden to score the runs fell on the dependable Jacques Kallis, but even he hasn't been able to perform that role consistently. Yusuf Pathan finally showed some spark with his 49 not out in the last match against Rajasthan, and if he and Eoin Morgan can strike big on Tuesday, KKR will be in with a chance to upset Mumbai.
But the visitors will be up against the in-form Mitchell Johnson and Lasith Malinga who were instrument in decimating Chennai for 79 on Monday. While Yusuf and Morgan can be banked upon the middle, the onus will once again be on Gambhir and Kallis to ward off the initial danger and get the team off to a solid start.
Scanning Mumbai's batting, Rohit Sharma stands out as the top performer. Ever since being asked to captain after Ricky Ponting decided to sit out, he has held together the Mumbai batting, which otherwise hasn't been top notch so far. Ponting opted himself out of the XI after failing to score big, Sachin Tendulkar hasn't taken off as an opener, Dwayne Smith has scored on and off and Ambati Rayudu and Kieron Pollard are yet to put up their best show this season. Only Sharma and wicketkeeper Dinesh Karthik have shone brightly to keep Mumbai at third place on the points table.
Assisting Pollard and Malinga's efforts are the former MI skipper Harbhajan Singh, who keeps a lid on scoring, and left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha, who took life out of Chennai on Monday with the wickets of Michael Hussey and MS Dhoni.
Kolkata, on the other hand have looked overdependent on Sunil Narine, who has 16 wickets against his name so far and is undoubtedly Gambhir's trump card. But the visitors will also want the likes of Kallis, Rajat Bhatia and Laxmipathy Balaji to support Narine if they were to leave Mumbai as winners. One change we might see in the Kolkata line-up is the return of Brett Lee in place of Sachithra Senanayake on the Wankhede track that has some bounce on offer.
Mumbai Indians: 1 Dwayne Smith, 2 Sachin Tendulkar, 3 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 4 Kieron Pollard, 5 Rohit Sharma (capt), 6 Ambati Rayudu, 7 Harbhajan Singh, 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Lasith Malinga, 10 Pragyan Ojha, 11 Pawan Suyal.
Kolkata Knight Riders: 1 Gautam Gambhir (capt), 2 Manvinder Bisla (wk), 3 Jacques Kallis, 4 Yusuf Pathan, 5 Eoin Morgan, 6 Debabrata Das, 7 Rajat Bhatia, 8 Sumit Narwal, 9 Brett Lee/Sachithra Senanayake, 10 Iqbal Abdullah, 11 Sunil Narine.