A batter who scored four golden ducks not too long back, a spinner who did commentary last year in the IPL and played only one match the previous year, a pacer — also a civil engineer — who till a few years ago was only good for tennis-ball cricket, and to top it all, a captain who has been terribly out of form and averages just 21.60 in 15 matches — Mumbai Indians are quite a team to have made the playoffs and be just one win away from the final.
Hardik Pandya is eyeing a second IPL final on the trot since GT’s debut. PTI picture
On Friday, when they square off with Gujarat Titans in Qualifier 2 in Ahmedabad, Mumbai will probably take the ground as the favourites. It’s not that the Titans, the defending champions, have been playing badly. Far from it actually, Hardik Pandya’s boys have been the best in the league phase of IPL 2023. It’s just because of the vibes Mumbai ooze at the moment. They look confident, have a spring in their steps, are peaking at the right time and are threatening to add to their already impeccable playoffs record.
Akash Madhwal, who took the five-time champions into Qualifier 2 with his match-winning 5/5. PTI picture
And that such good words can be said about Mumbai is thanks to all those characters mentioned above, who have been bringing out their best in the business end of the tournament. Suryakumar Yadav has bid adieu to his ‘duck’ tales and has one hundred and four fifties to his credit so far in this IPL, Piyush Chawla has been spinning winning scripts with 21 wickets, Akash Madhwal has taken nine wickets in his last two matches and Rohit Sharma, though still not at his fluent best as an opener, is getting all the moves right as the captain.
Rashid Khan during Gujarat Titans’ practice at the Motera stadium on Thursday. PTI picture
But these are not the only ones who are driving Mumbai’s renewed campaign. Australia all-rounder Cameron Green has been a stellar performer with the bat, while his compatriot, Jason Behrendorff, has hit the right notes with the ball. There’s also the likes of Tilak Varma and Ishan Kishan who have stood up to challenges at different points in time.
While Mumbai ride the momentum, the Titans are not miles behind. In fact, their loss to Chennai Super Kings in Qualifier 1 can be overlooked as a minor blip in what has been a superb campaign. They may not have so many tales to tell as Mumbai, but they have been a fantastic story themselves, compact and well-composed.
Mumbai Indians captain Rohit Sharma. PTI picture
A balanced team and a brave captain have served the Titans well ever since they made their debut last year. They know their game and seldom appear to be a side short on ideas.
Hardik’s captaincy skills will be up for test against the man he aspires to replace permanently in India’s white-ball set-up. Given Rohit’s credentials — he enjoys a win percentage of over 78 in IPL playoffs — Hardik’s job will no way be easy.
As far as the overall contest is concerned, it can be simplified as a contest between Mumbai’s batting might and the Titans’ bowling expertise. On one hand is a team who, this season, have chased down 200-plus totals thanks to their high horsepower batting unit, on the other hand is the side who have had the best bowlers in this edition — Mohammed Shami (26) and Rashid Khan (25) occupy the top two spots among the wicket-takers this time.
Batsmen are expected to harvest runs on the Motera pitch on Friday. While that might be good news for Mumbai, they must remember there’s a Shubman Gill — 722 runs at an average of 55.53 — in the opposition camp.
Get set for some mind-numbing power play.
Qualifier 2: Gujarat Titans vs Mumbai Indians, 7.30pm, Ahmedabad, live on Star Sports & Jio Cinema