Two time Indian Premier League champions Mumbai Indians are all set to clash with Pune Supergiant in the first qualifier at Wankhede stadium on Wednesday. A lot is at stake in the first qualifier which is also being billed as the Maharashtra Derby.
The winner will become the first team to seal a place in the VIVO 2017 IPL finals, to be played in Hyderabad on May 21.On the other hand, the loser will get another chance in Qualifier 2, to be played on May 19 in Bengaluru.
Rising Pune Supergiant has a 3-1 advantage over Mumbai Indians heading into Wednesday's clash. They are also the first team to have beaten Mumbai both times in this edition of the IPL while holding an edge at Wankhede stadium too.
With five wins in their last six games leading into the play-offs, RPS will go in with a lot of confidence, but they'll also be wary of the might of MI, who despite losing some steam after becoming the first team to enter the second round, are a deadly force when it comes to the business-end of the tournament.
Mumbai has been in roaring form and their batsmen have been consistently among the runs. The diminutive dynamo Parthiv Patel and the West Indian hurricane Lendl Simmons have emerged as a deadly opening combination. Apart from them, Nitish Rana, skipper Rohit Sharma, the Pandya brothers and Kieron Pollard are capable of destroying any bowling line up and put fear in the minds of the opposition.
The bowling too is in good hands with Jasprit Bumrah and Mitchell Mcclenaghan capable of providing their team timely breakthroughs. Bumrah's death over spells have wrecked havoc in opposition camps apart from curtailing the batsmen.
Lasith Malinga has been a bit inconsistent in the tournament but his experience and capability to break partnerships will come in handy in the crucial match. Mcclenaghan, Mitchell Johnson and Hardik Pandya offer raw pace and bounce which complement well with Malinga and Bumrah's swinging deliveries.
The spin department is being led by the 'Turbunator' Harbhajan Singh and along with Krunal Pandya, he will have to use all his guiles to stop the Pune line-up from amassing a huge score.
On the other hand, Pune Supergiant will miss the services of their best player and costliest buy of the season, all-rounder Ben Stokes, who returned to national duty.
With the 'Man with the Midas touch' gone, it will be an uphill battle for Pune to upstage Mumbai. Pune's batting has clicked in patches and the team will be worried by the inconsistent form of captain Steven Smith, veteran MS Dhoni and Ajinkya Rahane.
The batting will be completely dependent on Rahul Tripathi, Smith and Manoj Tiwari in the absence of Stokes. Dhoni and Rahane too need to showcase their form of old if their team has to have a shot at the title.In the absence of top bowlers, like Stokes and Imran Tahir, the Indian bowlers will have to pull up their socks.
Their pacers Jaydev Unadkat (21 wickets), Shardul Thakur (8 wickets) and Dan Christian (9 wickets) have been impressive and regularly taking wickets.
The trio will need to strike once again to restrict Mumbai and also require support from their spinners Washington Sundar and Adam Zampa.
It's the best time for Pune's foreign buys Lockie Ferguson and Daniel Christian to up the ante as the team tries to find an able replacement of the magical Ben Stokes.
Parthiv Patel (wk), Lendl Simmons, Rohit Sharma (c), Ambati Rayudu, Krunal Pandya, Kieron Pollard, Hardik Pandya, Harbhajan Singh, Mitchell McClenaghan, Jasprit Bumrah, Lasith Malinga
Rising Pune Supergiant
Ajinkya Rahane, Rahul Tripathi, Steven Smith (c), Manoj Tiwary, MS Dhoni (wk), Usman Khawaja/Lockie Ferguson, Daniel Christian, Washington Sundar, Shardul Thakur, Jaydev Unadkat, Adam Zampa