Their bid for a third title back on track after a shock defeat in the opening game, defending champions Mumbai Indians would be keen to carry on the winning momentum when they face table toppers Gujarat Lions, who have won both their matches so far, in an Indian Premier League (IPL) game at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on Saturday.
Unlike the last two years, MI have made a quick turnaround following their humiliating nine-wicket loss against the new IPL team — Rising Pune Supergiants — in their campaign opener at the Wankhede Stadium here on 9 April.
They came back strongly to post a thumping six-wicket win over Kolkata Knight Riders and that augurs well for their expected tough battle against yet another league debutants — Gujarat Lions.
MI had suffered a string of four straight losses initially before overturning despair into delight by storming their way to the title last year. They had lost five straight matches in the beginning in 2014 edition also prior to entering the play-offs.
Keen to avoid a similar run, MI have succeeded in breaking their losing streak early this season. It must be pleasing for the team that it came on the strength of captain Rohit Sharma, who led the way with an attacking, unbeaten 84 that flattened KKR.
Equally pleasing for MI would be the form of new England recruit Jos Buttler. Another important cog in the title holders’ wheel is New Zealand all-rounder Mitchell McClenaghan.
MI, however, would be hoping that not only this trio but also the likes of Hardik Pandya also click against the new franchise led by Suresh Raina.
Mumbai’s top-order, even in the absence of their last season top-scorer Lendl Simmons, ruled out due to injury, wears a healthy look. But it would be hoping to play on a more batsman-friendly wicket than the seam-supported one that was laid for the tournament opener against Pune.
After the sound thrashing at home by the Pune franchise in their first game, MI re-jigged their bowling combination a bit and it paid rich dividends against KKR.
In the light of last year’s success story with Harbhajan Singh forging an effective spin duet with left-arm spinner Jagadeesha Suchith, this duo is expected to be retained for a similar role in the middle overs against the Lions on Saturday.
Sitting at the top of the table with successive wins over Kings XI Punjab (away by 5 wickets) and RPS (at home in Rajkot by 7 wickets), Gujarat Lions would fancy their chances.
Ravindra Jadeja showed his effectiveness with his left- arm slow bowling, but the Lions would be mulling whether to keep the other left-arm spinner Shadab Jakati in the mix.
The Lions also have some big muscle at the top of the batting order in the meaty blade of in-form Australian opener Aaron Finch, who has the ability to take the leather off the ball and uses his feet well against the spinners, and the ever-aggressive former New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum.
The duo is followed by skipper Suresh Raina and Dwayne Bravo, but beyond the top four, the batting appears a bit light with the inconsistent Dinesh Karthik and Jadeja.
It would be interesting to see how the new team performs if it loses some early wickets.
With the cagey Praveen Kumar, 40-plus Praveen Tambe and all-rounder Bravo, with his ability to take off the pace with his slower balls, beefed up by the lanky left-arm pace of James Faulkner, the Lions seem to have covered most bases in bowling.
They might be tempted to bring in Umang Sharma to bowl off spin in place of Jakati for the game against MI.
Gujarat Lions: Aaron Finch, Brendon McCullum, Suresh Raina (Capt.), Dwayne Bravo, Dinesh Karthik, Ravindra Jadeja, Akshdeep Nath, James Faulkner, Praveen Kumar, Shadab Jakati, Praveen Tambe, Paras Dogra, Eklavya Dwivedi, Ishan Kishan, Shivli Kaushik, Dhawal Kulkarni, Sarabjit Ladda, Amit Mishra, Pradeep Sangwan, Jaydev Shah, Umang Sharma, Dwayne Smith, Dale Steyn, Andrew Tye.
Mumbai Indians: Rohit Sharma (Capt.), Parthiv Patel, Hardik Pandya, Jos Buttler, Mitchell McClenaghan, Ambati Rayudu, Kieron Pollard, Harbhajan Singh, Jagadeesha Suchith, Tim Southee, Jasprit Bumrah, Shreyas Gopal, R Vinay Kumar, Corey Anderson, Unmukht Chand, Marchant de Lange, Siddhesh Lad, Kishore Kamath, Krunal Pandya, Kishore Kamath, Deepak Punia, Nitish Rana, Jitesh Sharma, Nathu Singh, Akshay Wakhare, Lendl Simmons, Lasith Malinga.
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