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MI, RR battle for fourth spot

Mumbai: Still in with a chance to make the play-offs, title-holders Mumbai Indians (MI) will cross swords with Rajasthan Royals (RR), here, on Sunday, in what would be a shootout for the final play-off berth that is up for grabs in the ongoing IPL.

With the Kolkata Knight Riders bulldozing past the Sunrisers Hyderabad at the Eden, the MI-Royals game at the Wankhede has turned into a virtual quarter final.

The Royals are the front-runners to make the knockout stage with 14 points in their kitty and need to just defeat the MI to sail through. But it would be a difficult task at the Wankhede — the MI fortress — where rival teams have found it extremely difficult to get the better of Rohit Sharma and Co.

The Royals, who were beaten by table-toppers Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) on Friday at Mohali, have a better net run-rate of +0.247.

MI, on 12 points, seem to be on a roll after convincing back-to-back wins over KXIP and the Delhi DareDevils (DD). They have a net-rate of 0.09 and would not only have to win, but also do so with a handsome margin to make the play-offs.

MI produced some good performances after the IPL was back to India for the tournament’s second phase. The team has shown character and determination to bounce back from this dismal beginning, a point noted by their veteran Australian opener Michael Hussey after the win over the bottom-placed DareDevils.

When the two teams met previously in Ahmedabad, MI emerged convincing victors by 25 runs, but the hosts are missing the services of their death-bowling specialist Lasith Malinga, who is busy with his duties for Sri Lanka in England.

Added to this was the freak ankle injury sustained by their late recruit Praveen Kumar back on Friday after the toss, following the loss of the key bowler he had replaced — Zaheer Khan — due to a side strain. Praveen’s a doubtful starter against the Royals.

One of the positives for MI has been the return to form of Hussey after a string of low scores in the UAE that cost him his place in the playing XI. His successful opening combination with West Indian Lendl Simmons — who has scored the only century of this edition so far — is another plus.

The dominating way in which the Simmons-Hussey duo has batted so far for MI has been a major advantage to the side. About Simmons, it was always said that he had the potential and talent to make it big with his array of strokes and ability to unleash the big strokes. But problem in delivering and failure to convert starts into big ones hampered his chances.

But as of now in this IPL, Simmons made sure he didn't disappoint his franchise. As for Hussey, class has finally prevailed over form. Just one innings was what Mr Cricket needed to turn things in his favour. And having done so, it's his team that his reaping the benefits.

On the other hand for the Royals, it seems chasing has been a problematic area for them this season.