Dubai: The spotlight will be on Mumbai Indians skipper Rohit Sharma as his team take on Rising Pune Supergiant in the first qualifier of the Indian Premier League at the Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium on Tuesday.
For Sharma, who led Mumbai to their title triumph in 2013 and 2015, this contest will be very special in many ways.
To lift the IPL trophy a third time for Mumbai, which will be a ‘first,’ will certainly elevate his credentials as a captain — apart from setting him up in the right frame of mind ahead of the upcoming Champions Trophy. A thigh injury had kept Sharma out of action from the national team for over five months, while he struggled for form in the early matches of IPL this season.
To lead Mumbai to victory in 10 out of the 14 round robin matches that they played in this edition of the IPL is indeed a special achievement. Mumbai Indians have stood tall so far and will play Pune with the confidence they have gained from the league matches. Unlike Pune captain Steve Smith, who has replaced Mahendra Singh Dhoni this season and has delivered the results, Sharma enjoys the confidence of the team management and is not under any pressure.
After beating Kolkata Knight Riders in the last league match with a new-look team, Sharma said: “We spoke of finishing on a high. We wanted to play the brand of cricket we spoke about. We proved we have a great bench strength too. It can be frustrating to sit out, but all of them have been proven matchwinners. This was the perfect example of playing a perfect game. We were sticking to our plans and we didn’t panic.”
The pep talk that Sharma has given through a huddle before every match had its effect on all his teammates.
Sharma’s fine form in this IPL has already been rewarded with a place in Team India squad for the Champions Trophy. The 2013 edition of Champions Trophy saw Sharma at his best as he and Shikhar Dhawan provided ideal starts for Dhoni & Co and he consolidated his place in the ODI side. For those questioning Sharma’s selection in the Champions Trophy squad should do well to remember that he was the 2015 World Cup’s second highest scorer for India.
Sharma has won praise from former Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly, acknowledged as one of the finest leaders of the game. “Sharma has always carried the burden of Mumbai team on his shoulders very well,” he said as it’s no mean task to live up to the expectations of the Mumbai fans.
Even Virat Kohli, India’s captain in all formats, had once remarked that Sharma would make a good One-day team captain. If only Sharma can regain the form in the Indian top order, which saw him emerge as the only batsman with two double hundreds in One-day Internationals, he will be an ideal deputy for Kohli in the coming years.
One has to wait till Sunday (May 21) to find out if the graceful batsman can outdo Mahendra Singh Dhoni & Gautam Gambhir (both have won two IPL crowns each for Chennai Super Kings and Kolkata Knight Riders so far) as the Mumbai captain.
Qualifier 1: Mumbai Indians vs Rising Pune Supergiant
Venue: Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai (6.30pm UAE)
Live telecast on OSN Sports HD Cricket