MUMBAI: The Indian Premier League (IPL) 7 is back in India after its first-leg in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and will Mumbai Indians' (MI) five-match struggle end at home is a question that will be answered on Saturday (today) when they play Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) at the historic Wankhede Stadium. It will be a battle between one team that has won everything and the other that has been at the receiving end every time. Punjab have won 5/5 while MI have a scoreline of 0/5. Looking to end their dismal five-match losing streak, MI will be up against the table toppers who haven't lost a single match so far in Season 7.
Punjab have batted, bowled and fielded extremely well in the first phase of the T20 League and another victory at the cost of the struggling MI will fortify their last-four hopes, which are already bright. Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Johnson, David Miller and to a certain extent young Rishi Dhawan impressed in the UAE, and the KXIP management will be hoping that they continue with the same form on the Indian tracks as well. Maxwell, Dhawan and Johnson played for Mumbai last time around, so the trio will be hoping to prove a point and show Mumbai what they are missing this season. Johnson and Maxwell were revelations for the defending champions and Dhawan an unsung hero, and Mumbai not retaining them for the 2014 edition raised a few eyebrows.
Virender Sehwag and Cheteshwar Pujara have formed a solid opening pair for Punjab, if not intimidating. Pujara can play the sheet-anchor role that helps others around him score quickly. Maxwell (300 runs from 5 games) and David Miller (155) helped Punjab get a flying start in their opening two games against two-time former champions Chennai Super Kings and 2008 winners Rajasthan Royals. Captain George Bailey, also a fine T20 batsman, though hasn't been required to do much. So the batting looks immense and Mumbai bowlers will surely have their task cut out.
Punjab's bowling is in good hands as well, with Lakshmipathy Balaji, Johnson, and Sandeep Sharma forming an effective pace trio; but the spin department appears a bit stretched. Young left-arm spinner Akshar Patel has impressed with his tally of 6 wickets so far, while the former India bowler Murali Karthik remained on the bench in four of Mumbai's five defeats.
Compared to Punjab's settled batting, MI have tried out a few opening combinations and failed miserably, with captain Rohit Sharma, his Ranji Trophy team-mate Aditya Tare, Australians Mike Hussey and Ben Dunk all failing to get going. Corey Anderson has not lived up to his price tag, but it's difficult to see him getting dropped. The middle order has performed dismally, though Kieron Pollard came back to form in the last game against Sunrisers Hyderabad with a blistering knock of 78 off only 48 balls.
The bowling department has been better for Mumbai. Zaheer Khan, Lasith Malinga and Harbhajan Singh have bowled well. But Pragyan Ojha's form is a worry as he not only has failed to get among the wickets but also been very expensive. Punjab are the form side heading into this contest but playing as an away team at the Wankhede Stadium is as hard as it gets. And Mumbai will be hoping to change their fortunes starting with this match, but for them to get their title-defence back on track, the top-order batsmen need to find form quickly. But while Punjab played their last match on April 28, Mumbai played theirs on April 30. So there might be a bit more rust in the Punjab dugout, which they will want to guard against.
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