| Rahul Dravid, during a practice session, in Jaipur, on Friday |
Jaipur: The success of Indian Premier League (IPL) makes the Champions League T20 seem like its poor cousin. Indian cricket fans have not really taken to it in the same way they have taken to the IPL. But all that may yet change when Rajasthan Royals take on IPL champions Mumbai Indians here on Saturday.
If officials from the Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA) are to be believed, there will not be a single empty seat at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium when Rahul Dravid comes out with his Mumbai counterpart Rohit Sharma for the toss. However, forecast of rain on Saturday may still dampen spirits.
Saturday’s match could be the last opportunity to witness Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid face each other at the historic Pink City. Fans braved the intense heat on Friday to watch Tendulkar at nets – a proof of their love and admiration for the master.
Not allowed to enter the main practice arena, they gathered beyond a brick wall and followed Tendulkar’s every move. And when Rohit Sharma missed a delivery from Pragyan Ojha, one spectator loudly instructed him to learn a few tricks from Tendulkar.
While others laughed at the joke, Tendulkar did not even look up. He spent a long time at nets. Watching him bat against spinners was a real treat, as he was not beaten even once. Later, with practised hitting at tennis balls being thrown at him Jonty Rhodes for more than half an hour. With his teammates continuing with the nets, Tendulkar left for the team hotel having finished his session.
Dravid, too, was all concentration when Rajasthan Royals had their practice session in the evening. After his stint at the nets, he was seen chatting with Shane Watson for some time and then keenly watched the youngsters in the team.
Dravid knows he has a tough task on hand. The Royals had not lost a match at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in the last IPL. But the spot fixing scandal has hit the team hard. The ban on three of their players –Sreesanth, Ankit Chavan and Shiddharth Trivedi – has not only left the Rajasthan management red faced but has also weakened the side considerably on the eve of Champions League.
However, young spinner Harmeet Singh, who was let off due to lack of evidence against him, has been officially included in the squad for Saturday’s match.
Dravid, who will not lead Royals after this tournament, himself said: “We have played the last few matches of the IPL without those players and I believe the team spirit we have and the morale we have will not go down. We will not let the strength of our spirit go down.”
Rajasthan were one of the only two teams the last IPL to remain unbeaten at home and were well served by players like Brad Hodge, Stuart Binny, James Faulkner, Kevon Cooper and Ajinkya Rahane. They finished third in IPL.
Local lad Ashok Menaria, too, had struck form at the right time. Fine performances with both the bat and ball during the recent Emerging Trophy and India A series against New Zealand should give him the necessary confidence.
On the other hand, Mumbai Indians have a formidable team with the right balance and options in all departments. Tendulkar will be eager to bow out with flying colours, while the likes of Kieron Pollard, skipper Rohit Sharma, Dwayne Smith, Dinesh Kartik and Ambati Rayudu provide solidity to their batting.
Mumbai, however, will miss the services of match-winning bowler Lasith Malinga. Pacer Mitchell Johnson would be expected to fill Malinga’s place. They don’t have too many options in the pace department though. Nathan Coulter-Nile does not have much international experience, while Abu Nechim and Rishi Dhawan are the only Indian pacers.
Mumbai Indians (likely): Rohit Sharma (captain), Dwayne Smith, Sachin Tendulkar, Dinesh Karthik, Kieron Pollard, Ambati Rayudu, Harbhajan Singh, Mitchell Johnson, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Pragyan Ojha, Rishi Dhawan.
Rajasthan Royals (likely): Rahul Dravid (captain), Ajinkya Rahane, Shane Watson, Sanju Samson, Stuart Binny, Brad Hodge, Dishant Yagnik, Kevon Cooper, James Faulkner, Vikramjeet Malik, Rahul Shukla.
Umpires: Bruce Oxenford and Rod Tucker. TV: S Ravi.
Match Referee: Ranjan Madugalle.