KOLKATA: Only the blessed get a chance to live twice. The Mumbai Indians have earned that James Bond-like privilege, thanks to finishing among the top two in the league stage. And so, despite losing to Chennai Super Kings in Qualifier 1, MI have another chance to book a spot in the final when they clash with Rajasthan Royals in the Qualifier 2 at Eden Gardens on Friday.
Adversity can, at times, bring out the best in a team, with Rajasthan Royals being a shining example. Ever since the spot-fixing scandal hit the world's richest T20 league a week back, Rahul Dravid's men have been battling against the odds both on and off the field. It can't be easy for any team to regroup and get down to business with three of the teammates behind bars, and new murky details surfacing every single day.
Skipper Rahul Dravid and his boys deserve full credit for staying focused in this hour of crisis and pulling off a four-wicket win against Sunrisers Hyderabad at the Kotla on Wednesday night.
The Royals' challenge will again be spearheaded by their Aussie trio of Shane Watson, Brad Hodge and James Faulkner. It was Hodge's blinder (unbeaten 54 off 29 balls), which came with his team reeling at 57 for 5 in pursuit of 133, that propelled the Royals to Qualifier 2. And given the fact that Hodge's match-winning innings came against one of the best attacks in the tournament, MI need to have their plans ready for him on Friday. MI also have to watch out for Watson, the Royals' top run-getter (537), and left-arm pacer Faulkner, second on the Purple Cap list with 26 scalps.
On a slow and low Eden track, though, it's the spinners who are likely to play a major role and MI will have the edge in this aspect. Harbhajan Singh, who loves bowling at Eden, and left-arm spinner Prajyan Ojha could pose a few problems for Dravid & Co. The Royals spin attack, on the other hand, has been hit by the arrest of the tainted duo Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan. In fact, with veteran leggie Pravin Tambe also unavailable due to injury, Dravid was forced to go with an all-pace attack against Sunrisers on Wednesday. MI's pace attack has lost its bite, mainly because Lankan Lasith Malinga is no longer as lethal as he was last season. Even Munaf Patel was found wanting against CSK in Qualifier 1.
The injured Sachin Tendulkar is likely to sit out again, though Dwayne Smith has done his best to make sure the Indian maestro is not missed. He was breathtaking against CSK on Tuesday with a 28-ball 68. However, MI fell well short of the CSK total and the likes of skipper Rohit Sharma, Dinesh Karthik and Kieron Pollard will have to pool in if MI is to tame the gutsy Royals.
Of the three teams standing after seven weeks of intense competition, Mumbai are the only one not to have won the championship yet, so they should be the most hungry unit. But they will have to bring their A game to the Eden on Friday against a cornered side which seems determined to go all the way.