G Unnikrishnan, Kolkata, May 23, 2013, DHNS:
Rohit and Co start favourites against Rajasthan in Qualifier 2; Tendulkar makes recovery
Rajasthan Royals and Mumbai Indians offer compelling stories in their own right.
If you are a fan of the doughty tales of the underdogs, then Rajasthan are the team to support. Mumbai, on the other hand, have an assortment of some of the finest talents, and the backers of colourful and explosive units would find it hard to turn away from them.
When these teams take on each other at the Eden Gardens on Friday in the Qualifier 2, Rajasthan could be the universal favourites. From day one of the IPL VI, they had to battle it out against big-budget teams fielding big names. However, more than once they have deflated egos of seemingly superior outfits, particularly at their home — Jaipur.
But last week Royals plunged into a massive crisis with their three of their players getting caught for spot-fixing, leaving the former champions a shell-shocked lot. Their last league match against Sunrisers Hyderabad, perhaps, reflected their mood, as Royals looked a pale shadow of their confident self.
It was a tough situation to bounce back from, but Royals managed just that. They defeated the same opponents in the Eliminator to enter for the Qualifier 2 against the Indians, and keep their hopes of making it to the finals alive.
Here the contribution of one man should not be forgotten – Rahul Dravid. The 40-year old kept the team a tight unit from the beginning of this edition of the IPL, bringing in much-needed professionalism. But the spot-fixing saga might have come as a rude shock for him, but till this date he has not lost his composure, leading the side with aplomb through tumultuous days.
With an all-to-gain match against Mumbai looming, the presence of Dravid will be a huge boost for Royals – as a player and a level-headed leader of men. Then they also have the quartet of Shane Watson, Brad Hodge, who played a match-winning knock against Sunrisers, Sanju Samson and Ajinkya Rahane to bank upon to deliver on the morrow against Mumbai. If they can do so, then it will be the first step towards the final, perhaps even a title win.
Mumbai do not have to deal with complex issues such as spot fixing like the Royals, and in that respect they are a much more settled and at-peace-with-themselves squad. The only jarring point is the fitness of Sachin Tendulkar. The master batsman has not played the last three matches due to a wrist injury that he suffered on May 13 while batting against the Sunrisers.
There has been swelling on his wrist and tendons, but Mumbai would like to see him on the field on the morrow in a must-win match as his presence is a lift for the whole team. It’s all the more important because the Indians have a certain fragility about them in crunch matches, a disturbing tendency to crumble under pressure.
It’s particularly so against the Chennai Super Kings. Despite enjoying a better head-to-head record against the Super Kings in league phase, Mumbai have struggled to beat their Southern rivals in knockout matches.
One such difficult night at Delhi a couple of days ago against the familiar rivals has forced them to play the second qualifier in their quest for an elusive IPL title.
Skipper Rohit Sharma, Kieron Pollard and Dinesh Kaarthick have been in good form this season and in bowling Mitchell Johnson and Harbhajan Singh has taken crucial wickets without being expensive.
The Mumbai Indians now require to fire collectively, and any slip up on that front will be heavily punished by Rajasthan.