Dubai: Six wins is the magic number for any of the eight teams in the Indian Premier League because that’s the minimum needed for at least a starting spot in the play-offs.
So far, the Delhi Capitals and four-time kings and defending champions Mumbai Indians are the two sides entertaining this comfortable thought of advancing to the business end of the competition in November.
Mumbai, who next have to move out of their comfort zone in Abu Dhabi and take on bottom-placed Kings XI Punjab in Sunday’s second match in Dubai, will be only too eager about going the extra step for a seventh win.
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In their home encounter in Abu Dhabi, it was Rohit Sharma’s elegance mingled with the belligerence of his two six-hitting lieutenants — Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya — that had seen Mumbai Indians humble Kings XI Punjab by 48 runs.
Invited to bat, the classy Rohit had laid the foundation with a 45-ball 70, lacing his innings with eight fours and three sixes. Pollard and Pandya then did what they do best most often to take the total to 208 in the allotted overs and the Kings then plodded to 143 for 8 in 20 overs.
The Indian vice-captain is aware of the “perils” of winning too much as it can quite often lead to an early burnout. More importantly, four of their next six games will be either in Sharjah or Dubai, and that can pose a worry. “It is always a challenge when you’ve won four out of four,” Rohit said after their win against Kolkata Knight Riders on Friday.
“For us, it is about how we turn up on that particular day,” he added.
The KXIP side, whose head coach Anil Kumble turned 50 on Saturday, have not been able to fix the jigsaw puzzle and start winning consistently despite skipper KL Rahul’s fine run with the bat.
After six losses, the Kings got only their second win on Thursday with an eight-wicket victory over Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore. But they had to wait until the very last delivery to cross the line after being in a comfortable position in the chase.
Skipper Rahul then insisted that they are a much better side than what is seen on the points table. But with just six games remaining, KXIP will have very little room for error if they want to be part of the fast-approaching play-offs.
“We have played some really good cricket and it is human to feel disappointed and frustrated with past games. Nobody wants to lose especially when you are doing a lot of things right. Our skills have been very good, probably we have just not capitalised on the moments,” Rahul said after Thursday’s game.
“It started with the first game against Delhi, so as they say- it becomes a habit either winning or not winning, it has all been a great learning. It is part of the IPL, part of cricket wherever we play we know there are going to be ups and downs, but on a positive note, we really wanted this win to get some confidence in the group to go out and play our cricket with a lot more freedom from the next game.”
In Sunday’s first match, injury-ridden Sunrisers Hyderabad will travel to the UAE capital to face a wavering Kolkata Knight Riders side.
KKR had defeated Hyderabad by seven wickets in their home encounter earlier in the competition. Batting first, SRH put up a total of 142 for four with Manish Pandey making a 38-ball 51, while KKR chased down the target with two overs to spare, thanks mainly to young Shubman Gill’s unbeaten 70 off 62 balls.
A win for SRH in this mid-table clash would displace KKR in fourth spot on a better net run-rate and eight points each.
With just three wins from eight matches, the Sunrisers have been clearly struggling to get things right. To add to their woes, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and all-rounder Mitchell Marsh are out to injuries meaning their top-heavy batting of Jonny Bairstow, Manish Pandey, Kane Williamson and Warner himself will have to really come through from now on.
And yet another cause of concern for the Sunrisers will be Rashid Khan’s form after the Afghanistan spinner remained ineffective in his team’s last two losses.
Despite Friday’s loss to the defending champions, KKR can look positively ahead with a new captain at the helm. Eoin Morgan couldn’t do much in his first game, but England’s World Cup-winning skipper will be eyeing full points against a depleted side.