We preview Sunday's IPL double-header, which sees the Mumbai Indians take on the Gujarat Lions and the Royal Challengers Bangalore square off against the Rising Pune Supergiant.The Sachin Tendulkar-inspired Mumbai Indians are back at their favourite ground, against the state they lost to in this year's Ranji Trophy final. It's a different, much shorter format, of course, but a big challenge awaits regardless.
The second game of the day sees the three-time runners-up, Bangalore, continue their pursuit of a maiden title. Although early days in a very long tournament, the groundwork - long before the business end - is important. The same goes for Pune, who are still quite new to this all.
Mumbai Indians v Gujarat Lions | Sunday 16 April | Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai | 12:30
To Win Match
Mumbai Indians 67/100 | Tie 35/1 | Gujarat Lions 5/4
Having shaken off some rust during the opening fixtures of their campaign, Mumbai need to ward off some indecision against the Lions. For one, captain Rohit Sharma needs to choose - once and for all - where he will bat. It's all well and good having an average player float up and down the order, but a batsman of such talent and stature requires a permanent home. The opening berth, particularly against Gujarat, should be his.
Back at the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai will be eager to take full advantage of the conditions, particularly if they bat first. Chasing a total under lights and amid the dew factor has negatively affected teams chasing a modest or challenging total in the past. The same will apply again, but the home side need not fear either. They're good against a dry ball, arguably better with a wet ball in hand, so losing the toss wouldn't be disastrous.
They continue to, sporadically, avoid calls for Mitchell McClenaghan to be permanently sidelined. If this is going to be the approach going forward, then managing him against a very dangerous Lions batting order is vital. He shouldn't bowl in the opening six-over Powerplay - and his allotment should be completed by the 15th over. Allowing Harbhajan Singh to open the bowling, again, is a good idea - taking pace off the ball early on, as always, is wise.
If they've flirted with the idea previously, now is the time for Gujarat to permanently rethink their strategy with their contingent of overseas players. Aaron Finch, Dwayne Smith, Jason Roy and Brendon McCullum are each awesome, individually, but the collective order isn't proving an all-round success. The addition of Finch's fellow Australian, James Faulkner, could be the remedy - and add value with the ball. But then which star from abroad should make way? If not Finch himself, then Smith.
While Gujarat's tournament debut success isn't quite under fire yet, the relatively new franchise has a lot to do to ensure they are able to finish at the top of the table again. Despite their number one finish last year, they lost both qualifiers, so now is the time to test their zeal and big match temperament when heavily under pressure. While a straightforward victory is the immediate goal, a genuinely hard-fought win would speak to the end goal.
They've got 2016's twin wins over Sunday's opposition going for them. Those results were built on the back of telling contributions from captain Suresh Raina. The hard-hitting left-hander recently became the leading run-scorer in the 10-edition history of the Indian Premier League - and will want to build on this and reap revenge against last season's nemesis. He'll be needed more than ever if the overseas guns don't fire on cue.
Verdict: Mumbai Indians 67/100
Mumbai have made the Wankhede Stadium a veritable fortress - and are not about to let their proud home record be dented. They showed against the Sunrisers Hyderabad, who were 81 without loss but ultimately managed an insufficient 158 for eight, that even tough situations are not irreparable. The Lions will face a staunch task in undoing this mentality.
Royal Challengers Bangalore v Rising Pune Supergiant | | Sunday 16 April | M Chinnaswamy Stadium | 20:00
To Win Match
Royal Challengers Bangalore 62/100 | Tie 35/1 | Rising Pune Supergiant 27/20
Royal Challengers Bangalore
All but 100 percent recovered from the shoulder injury that kept him out of the first week of the competition, Virat Kohli's availability won't have an affect on Bangalore's bigger batting question: Chris Gayle or AB de Villiers? Bangalore were absolutely fine without the West Indian against Pune, twice, last year. The South African's presence in the XI is a must. Hopefully, for thrills and frills, the brains trust finds space for both of them.
Indeed, the Royal Challengers overcame the Pune threat on both occasions last year. Kohli averaged a whopping 188 runs across those twin fixtures, including a commanding century in the first. The proverbial writing is on the wall for more, provided he plays - and can quickly move on from the injury that sidelined him originally. De Villiers certainly did, with no signs of his hurt back flaring up during an amazing 89 not out against the Kings XI Punjab. The pair are cut from the same cricketing genius cloth.
Brilliant batting aside, Bangalore must find a solution for the familiar bowling woes. Hot one match, cold the next, some sort of consistency is required - the Pune fixture is the ideal opportunity to find it. The Supergiant's batting order has some stars, but isn't the most feared in the tournament. Bangalore's attack, hopefully minus the services of the wayward Billy Stanlake and instead spearheaded by Englishman Tymal Mills, will do well to remember that. Play the player, not the name, says the old adage.
Rising Pune Supergiant
Having fetched a mighty sum at the player auction, all-rounder Ben Stokes is not delivering full value. A complete effort, with bat and ball, is required against Bangalore. His ability as a bowler has been found wanting in particular - and whether captain Ajinkya Rahane continues with him as a death bowler is of great intrigue. Perhaps there is an unseen obligation on the go there, but evidently it's not working. The closing overs of Bangalore's innings will be make or break.
Something is bubbling under the surface for Faf du Plessis. The South African captain has had a quiet start to the IPL and, as a Chennai Super Kings stalwart, has seen it all before. Sunday's match in Bangalore might just be the opportunity to remind all and sundry just why he is a veritable cult hero in India. Like many other versatile stars, he has the ability to bat up or down the order at a moment's notice - a welcome dynamic for a team seeking it.
Blessed with the talents of leg-spinners Adam Zampa and Imran Tahir, Pune just can't seem to unearth the ideal bowling combination to suit the pair. With Stokes and Ashok Dinda not really firing, the bench strength continues to come into focus. Thisara Perera and Irfan Pathan could be bankers against Bangalore, particularly on a patchy M Chinnaswamy Stadium pitch that has been a bit two-paced at times - but has also witnessed the most sixes in the history of the tournament.
Verdict: Rising Pune Supergiant 27/20
This is definitely the alternative pick, but one has the sneaky feeling that the Supergiant are going to pull one over the Royal Challengers, despite history suggesting otherwise. It will be a difficult challenge, away from home, but the IPL nomads are fully aware of the expectations.