Akash Madhwal’s breathtaking bowling performance against Lucknow Super Giants in the Eliminator would have given five-time IPL champions Mumbai Indians wings, and they would be fancying their chances against defending champions Gujarat Titans in Qualifier 2, to be played in the world’s largest stadium on Friday.
Mumbai Indians, riding on magical figures of five for five produced by Madhwal at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on Wednesday night, knocked out LSG from the race to the final with an 81-run win. The massive MI victory was a warning to the rivals that they could lift their game according to the occasion even in the absence of star pacers Jasprit Bumrah and Jofra Archer and batting mainstay Tilak Varma.
MI pride themselves on thriving when the odds are stacked against them, something they have done throughout the season. Having finished last in the previous edition, Rohit Sharma’s team has ground it out this season to remain in contention for a sixth IPL title even with limited resources. The likes of Cameron Green, Suryakumar Yadav, and Tim David have responded well to the challenges and now form the backbone of the batting department, with the young Nehal Wadhera too making a huge impact and the opening pair of Rohit and Ishan Kishan doing a fair job.
It will be a stern test for the Titans’ bowling attack, led by Mohammad Shami (26 wickets in 15 matches), to get the better of MI’s batting, which has improved drastically towards the business end of the tournament. Madhwal has been a revelation with the ball. The right-arm bowler returned a dream spell of 3.5-0-5-5 against LSG to put his side into the virtual semifinal after a three-wicket burst that set up victory in their crucial last league game against Sunrisers Hyderabad.
Veterans Piyush Chawla (21 wickets in 15 matches) and Jason Behrendorff (14 wickets in 11 matches) have also been impressive, while an otherwise expensive Chris Jordan also enjoyed a fine outing of 2-1-7-1 in the Eliminator.
Gujarat Titans, outclassed and outgunned in Qualifier 1 by Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings, will have one last chance to gather themselves up and put their best foot forward in familiar conditions here in order to qualify for their second IPL final on the trot. It will be imperative for the defending champions that their batting clicks in unison since Shubman Gill and Vijay Shankar have done the bulk of the heavy lifting with the bat in the last few games.
Gill might have had an off day against CSK, but his two centuries in the closing stages of the league round make him the biggest threat for the Mumbai Indians. With 722 runs in 15 matches at an average of 55.53, including two centuries and four fifties, the India batter has 421 runs more than the second-best GT batter, Shankar, with 301 runs in 12 matches, and is also just eight runs short of going past RCB’s Faf du Plessis to finish with the most runs in this IPL.
The Titans will also expect more with the bat from their captain, Hardik Pandya, who is going through a form slump, notching scores of 8, DNB, 8, 4, and 25 in his last five games.
The Titans’ lower middle-order lynchpin, David Miller, too, has gone without a fifty this season and also failed to get into double figures in his last three outings. The contest here on Friday night will be the third meeting between GT and MI this season, with both teams winning one game each.
After the Titans crushed MI at this venue by 55 runs in a one-sided game, in their next game, Suryakumar struck his maiden IPL century to power MI to a 27-run win, a margin that could have been a lot bigger had Rashid Khan not smashed a brutal 32-ball 72.