It’s shape-up-or-ship-out time for Lucknow Super Giants (LSG) and Mumbai Indians (MI), teams that left it perilously late to seal their playoff berths and who now square off in the first knockout encounter of IPL 2023.
Their inability to run up a string of victories meant they yo-yoed up and down the points table for the duration of the league phase. Consequently, both went into their respective final games needing nothing short of a victory, and even that might not have sufficed for Mumbai. In a classic case of all’s well that ends well, both came through unscathed, Lucknow finishing third by virtue of their one-run heist against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) and Mumbai benefitting from Gujarat Titans’ (GT) conquest of Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in the final league clash of the competition.
Winner faces GT in Qualifier 2
Having survived one match where victory was non-negotiable, the teams will target an encore in Wednesday night’s (May 24) Eliminator at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chenani. Reward will come in the shape of a tilt at defending champions Gujarat in Ahmedabad on Friday, defeat will entail a ticket home and a prolonged period of introspection.
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More than their opponents-to-be, Mumbai pushed themselves into a corner after a characteristically ordinary start that fetched them only three wins in their first seven outings. A hat-trick of wins was bookended by successive defeats so that at the halfway stage, with just six wins out of a possible 14, Rohit Sharma’s men stared at the unenviable prospect of another scrap to avoid the wooden spoon which they had attracted last year after finishing bottom of the pile.
Their second-half rejuvenation, marked by five wins from seven fixtures, has coincided with the return to imperious run-scoring ways of the effervescent Suryakumar Yadav, the engine room of a franchise with some of the most powerful ball-strikers in the tournament. Suryakumar’s dalliance with failure in the initial stages was a hangover of his unforgettable tryst with Australia in the One-Day International series that preceded the IPL, when he was dismissed for a first-ball duck in all three games. Seemingly short on confidence and wondering where his next runs would come from, he turned the corner when he led the side after Rohit picked up a stomach bug and only played as an Impact Player; there has been no looking back since for the world’s No. 1-ranked T20I batsman.
Big hitters in MI line-up
That he is the pre-eminent figure in a batting line-up that, apart from Rohit, includes Ishan Kishan, Cameron Green and Tim David, all fearsome hitters, is tribute to Suryakumar’s well-documented game-changing abilities. Given his range of strokes and the certainty with which he sifts through them, he is almost impossible to set a field to, as captains and bowlers have been finding out over the last few years. His marked pre-determination might have been a banana skin for almost everyone else, but Suryakumar’s intense awareness of what he can do and the belief that he can pull it off more often than not singles him out as a dangerous opponent to whom the science of the game has no mysteries or fascination.
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One of two centurions for Mumbai, alongside Australian Green who is hitting peak form at the right time, Suryakumar will be confronted with a different challenge at Chepauk. Hitherto accustomed to teeing off at batting beauties at the Wankhede Stadium, he will have to revisit his approach if Pitch No. 3, on which the Eliminator is to be contested, plays true to form – which is slow and low. If there is one batsman who can still continue on unfettered, it’s the 32-year-old from Mumbai, though not even he can be immune to the vicissitudes of a sluggish track.
Lucknow have good experience of playing on such tracks, because that’s what has greeted them in their own backyard at the Akana International Stadium. Populated with such ferocious attackers as Marcus Stoinis and Nicholas Pooran, Lucknow haven’t found pitches on which the ball grips to their liking, and consequently have the worst home record of all teams this IPL. Chepauk might reopen old wounds, with veteran Mumbai leggie Piyush Chawla looming as a massive threat, but Krunal Pandya has an added incentive to steer his team over the line – a Qualifier 2 showdown against younger brother Hardik on Friday.
The older of the Pandya boys was thrust into the hot seat with five games remaining in the first phase following the thigh injury to KL Rahul that necessitated surgery. He hasn’t made the greatest of years either with the bat or as a left-arm spinner, but like his more celebrated sibling, he has been able to get the best out of his colleagues. Lucknow may not possess a line-up of glamour and intimidation value like, say, Royal Challengers Bangalore, but they have been well served by important contributions at crunch moments from many different hands, reinforcing the value of the strength of the collective.
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LSG’s attacking options
The belated inclusion in the playing XI of Quinton de Kock, in the wake of the injury to Rahul, means all their attacking options aren’t stocked only in the middle order, while Ayush Badoni has exploded the second-season blues syndrome to a large extent. Lucknow edged Mumbai by five runs in similar conditions on their own patch a little over a week back with Stoinis cutting loose in dramatic fashion, but the five-time former champions will be better prepared this time with so much on the line and with the advantage of having played on the same track a fortnight back.
Mumbai have found ways of overcoming the numerous setbacks in their bid to piece together a settled bowling line-up following injuries that ruled out Jasprit Bumrah and Jhye Richardson even before the tournament started, and claimed Jofra Archer, who was singularly ineffective during his five sporadic appearances that fetched him just two scalps. The decision to go with proven IPL failure Chris Jordan as Archer’s replacement surprised many and Jordan hasn’t bucked the trend, going at 10.87 runs per over in his four appearances. At the other end of the spectrum, the unheralded Akash Madhwal has been a revelation, particularly at the death with his searing yorkers, a talent definitely worth investing in.
Emotionally, this match will be no patch on Qualifier 1 which facilitated a popular home win, but context-wise, it will hardly suffer in comparison. Go big or go home – that’s the straightforward equation.
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