Rohit Sharma
Rohit Sharma has led by example for Mumbai Indians Image Credit: Sportzpics

Dubai: Defending champions Mumbai Indians will seek redemption against Rajasthan Royals when the two lock horns at the Arun Jaitley Stadium on Thursday.

Rohit Sharma, the Mumbai skipper, might want to rethink his ‘lose battle, win war’ strategy and revert to ensuring his side play the percentages because that’s exactly what the five-time winners aren’t doing at the moment. Not all around, but certainly in some spheres.

Their middle order has seemed colder rather than lukewarm at best. In terms of bowling, Mumbai have been on top of their game, but with low totals to defend, blame cannot be apportioned to the bowling department.

It’s no secret that Mumba’s woes lie compounded in the way the middle order has performed thus far. They are a far cry from what they are clearly capable of and to say it the way it is, only a few have managed to scratch the surface of their potential. The middle order has long been the backbone that’s carried the blue and golds to unprecedented success all along.

They have hard-hitters in the form of Ishan Kishan (73 runs), Hardik Pandya (36 runs), Krunal Pandya (29 runs) and Kieron Pollard (65 runs), but none has stepped forward so far.

Sharma has set a good example and is currently seventh on the batting leaderboard, with 201 after five matches, scored at an average of 40.2 and a strike rate of 130.51. However, his opening partner and Mumbai wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock has just 47 so far from four matches. Suryakumar Yadav is Mumbai’s next prolific batter with 154 runs, but he too should have been closer to his skipper.

Mumbai haven’t done themselves any favours since winning two and then losing as many on the trot. They are fourth in the table with two wins in five matches so far, the same as Rajasthan Royals, and are ahead in a four-team group that is locked on four points purely on the basis of a superior run rate. Rajasthan are currently seventh, but what the Royals do have is momentum. And while Mumbai were outclassed in their last match against Punjab Kings by nine wickets, the Sanju Samson-led Royals outperformed Kolkata Knight Riders by six wickets in their last outing.

Momentum can also be fleeting and whether the momentum brought forward by the Royals is true will be severely tested by Mumbai. Their bowling attack has seemed far more potent than the Royals overall but their top bowlers Rahul Chahar for Mumbai and Rajasthan’s Chris Morris each have nine scalps so far, with Chahar delivering better economy of the two.

Mumbai’s bowling has been far superior with Trent Boult and Jasprit Bumrah firing on all cylinders so far, particularly at the death. Jayant Yadav has been economical, but with the wicket favouring pace, Boult and Bumrah should have a good outing in the middle with Marco Jansen likely to replace Yadav.

Royals’ batting hasn’t been very consistent with only Samson delivering so far with 187, at an average of 46.75 and a strike rate of 143.84. Shivam Dube has scored just 110, while Jos Buttler’s 89 is rather unacceptable. Royals have been plagued by injuries and Ben Stokes’ absence has perhaps hit them the most when it comes to scoring, just like his English countryman Jofra Archer’s unavailability has hurt them in the bowling department.

All-rounder Morris, albeit a bit uneconomical, has done well so far and won them the match against Delhi Capitals with his tidy batting, while Chetan Sakariya and Jaydev Unadkat have also delivered, with the latter a picture of economy over three matches. Leg-spinner Rahul Tewatia is likely to be retained despite his unimpressive run so far in a bid to try and balance Chahar’s presence in the opposite camp.

Mumbai and Rajasthan are on level terms when it comes to head-to-heads with each having 11 games and the odd no result, but even though the Royals might seem to have the momentum, their magic might be lost against the defending champs.

In Thursday’s late match at Ahmedabad, third-placed Delhi Capitals take on KKR, who brought to an end their four match losing streak when comfortably beating Punjab Kings by five wickets in a low scoring affair in Ahmedabad.

Eoin Morgan’s side will not be in the mood to ring in changes especially after finally emerging from the gloom that surrounded their campaign. Morgan appeared to apply himself better against PBKS, while Nitish Rana (186), Rahul Tripathi (118) have fired all along. Shivam Mavi (1/13) and Sunil Narine (2/22) and Prasidh Krishna (3/30) enjoyed good spells against PBKS and there’s going to be no tampering there, but Delhi’s batting has perhaps been the best so far and they’ve been the only side that has scored in excess of 1000 runs so far, but their bowling hasn’t really done justice and Marcus Stoinis’ waywardness with the ball in the final over of their last game with Royal Challengers Bangalore in which the Australian all-rounder leaked 23 against a rampant AB de Villiers cost them dearly. Aside from those absolutely forgettable six deliveries, the Capitals did nothing wrong, which suggests they will be ready to capitalise on any kind of ebb on behalf of KKR.