IPL 2019: Rohit and Ashwin's captaincy to be tested during Mumbai Indians v KXIP

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Rohit Sharma (l) and Ravi Ashwin. Image: BCCI/SPORTZPICS.

Wednesday’s IPL clash between Mumbai Indians and Kings XI Punjab will be about the battle of wits between captains Rohit Sharma and Ravi Ashwin, more than anything.

Punjab are on the rise with four wins from six games while Mumbai are not too far behind, with three wins from five. Both teams enter the contest in Mumbai on the back of morale-boosting results.

While Punjab eked out a tense six-wicket win over Sunrisers Hyderabad with one ball to spare, Mumbai rode on a record haul of 6-12 by debutant pacer Alzarri Joseph to defend 137 against Sunrisers.

The pitch in Mumbai has been one of the better ones this season, so batsmen should look forward to a fruitful outing.

Rohit v Ashwin

Mumbai skipper Rohit is considered by many to be the best tactical Indian captain – more so than Virat Kohli.

The Mumbai Indians skipper has not been in the best of forms with the bat but has marshalled his resources well, especially in the absence of pacer Lasith Malinga and in the handling of quicks Jason Behrendorff and Joseph.

Ashwin, on the other hand, has been superb with the ball and as captain. Be it his situational awareness, the ‘Mankading’ of Jos Buttler was as smart as it was controversial, or the way he has utilised his international players, benching Mujeeb Ur Rahman for three games, Ashwin has backed his decisions with results.

With the ball, he has been brilliant, picking up seven wickets at an economy of 7.3. It will be a fascinating contest between two high-quality tacticians.

Joseph v Gayle v Pollard

The Caribbean flavour will be heavy in this clash at the Wankhede.

And it’s Mumbai who seem to have the edge in this regard. Debutant quick Joseph tore through the Sunrisers line-up to dismiss them for 96 in Hyderabad, getting the ball to tail in.

Kieron Pollard has been the engine of Mumbai’s lower order batting alongside Hardik Pandya, and should enjoy the balmy conditions in Mumbai.

Kings XI Caribbean star Chris Gayle, however, has threatened to ‘Universe Boss’ this tournament, but hasn’t gone all the way after the opening clash where he hit 79 off 47 against Rajasthan.

All three will have a point to prove, especially since the league phase is approaching the halfway stage and teams will finalise their core for the rest of the season soon.

Likely XIs

Mumbai Indians: Quinton de Kock (wk), Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan, Kieron Pollard, Hardik Pandya, Krunal Pandya, Rahul Chahar, Alzarri Joseph, Jason Behrendorff, Jasprit Bumrah

Kings XI Punjab: Chris Gayle, KL Rahul (wk), Mayank Agarwal, David Miller, Sarfaraz Khan, Mandeep Singh, Sam Curran, Ravi Ashwin (c), Mohammed Shami, Mujeeb Ur Rahman, Ankit Rajpoot

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IPL 2019: David Warner kept under wraps and KL Rahul keeps cool as KXIP beat SRH by six wickets

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KL Rahul kept his nerve at the death to get Kings XI Punjab back on track and condemn Sunrisers Hyderabad to a second defeat on the bounce.

Hyderabad fall to fourth place in the IPL standings, while Kings XI leapfrogged their visitors in Mohali to go into third place after their six-wicket win.

Having won the toss, Punjab opted to bowl first and made the most out of the dewy conditions. The Sunrisers struggled to get going and barely hit a boundary during the powerplay.

Jonny Bairstow faced six deliveries before being dismissed for one run while David Warner was forced to curb his natural attacking instincts and bat through the innings for his unbeaten 70 from 62 balls.

He was supported in the middle by Vijay Shankar (26 from 27) but it was Deepak Hooda who struck two boundaries and a six from his three deliveries at the death that carried them to a respectable total of 150-4.

Kings XI went about chasing down that target with minimum fuss though and Rahul was the one who saw them through with his unbeaten 71 from 53 balls. Mayank Agarwal also chipped in with 55 off 43 but his dismissal in the 18th over created a little wobble for the hosts.

At 132-2 then, the next eight runs took 17 balls and two wickets. After cruising for most of the innings Punjab required 11 off the final over but between Sam Curran and Rahul, they managed it with a ball to spare.

WARNER’S SLOW BURNER

This was not a vintage Warner innings and, depending on how you perceive it, one that either cost his side the game or gave them a fighting chance. The batsman has a reputation as one of the most explosive hitters in the IPL but was very well contained on this occasion.

It wasn’t the easiest track to bat on as Bairstow and Warner – the undisputed dominant opening pair this season – both struggled, as did Shankar who soon replaced the departed wicketkeeper-batsman.

“The ball was moving around a bit initially, so we wanted to see off the first six overs,” the all-rounder said after the first innings.

Of course, Punjab must get credit for their approach against Warner. Ankit Rajpoot, despite failing to pick up a wicket, was incredibly disciplined with his line and length. The field placement was spot on as well, packing the offside to guard against Warner’s strength through the covers. He managed to score just nine from the first 17 balls he faced.

In fairness, the Australian applied himself and worked hard for his runs. Warner’s one of the quickest between the wickets and it showed during this knock. He consistently pushed for quick singles and doubles to keep the scoreboard ticking over. However, the Sunrisers’ slowest start this season was difficult to recover from.

Even though Warner accelerated later in the innings, finishing with a strike rate of 112.90, and Hyderabad put up over 100 runs in the last 10 overs, their score of 150-4 always felt like it was just short of a winning target.

GAME PLAN

Apart from setting a good field against Sunrisers’ opening pair, Ravichandran Ashwin was also clever with the way he utilised his bowling attack. He brought on Mujeeb as early as the second over as he targeted Bairstow, who’s struggled against spinners this season. In fact, all six of the Englishman’s dismissals this term have been to wrist-spinners and mystery-spinners.

Meanwhile, Warner was offered no room outside the off stump and the pacers bowled short of a length deliveries to him so he couldn’t easily hit lofted shots over the inner circle. With a weak leg-side field, they almost exclusively bowled an off-stump or outside off-stump line, moving across the batsman without offering him too much room to extend his arms.

KL COOL AS EVER

There were no fireworks off Rahul’s bat. He didn’t dispatch the bowling attack to all parts of the ground, making a mockery of Sunrisers’ struggles at the crease. Instead, he paced his innings exceptionally well.

If the Indian selectors were watching, then this is exactly the kind of performance they would like to see from their openers at this summer’s World Cup in England.

He simply played good cricketing shots with little risk involved. With timing, technique and placement, he was able to anchor the innings while scoring at a rate just quick enough to turn defeat into attack – succeeding where Warner failed.

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IPL 2019: KL Rahul enjoying his batting and Ravi Ashwin aims to extend KXIP's winning streak at home

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KL Rahul.

Sunrisers Hyderabad captain Bhuvneshwar Kumar praised his bowlers for putting on a solid effort despite the dew factor in their narrow defeat to Kings XI Punjab in the Indian Premier League. He felt that his team was about 20 runs short of a good total.

“The way we bowled I am pretty happy given the dew. Still there are areas in our bowling we can improve. We were 20 runs short but what we all did believe in ourselves,” he said.

Man of the match KL Rahul confessed that he did struggle to have his way with the bat in the first couple of games but has now found his rhythm.

“Didn’t start off the way I wanted in the first couple of games. All the fifties have come in chasing and I am enjoying my batting. I’ve been playing with Chris (Gayle) for a long time and have been playing with Mayank (Agarwal) since my childhood.

“The way Mayank came out, the way he was striking gave me a little bit of time. He hurt his finger, he was in pain, to play that sort of innings was incredible. I did tell (Sam) Curran that hitting sixes was difficult, so look to hit the pockets. He tried to hit sixes but luckily for us, it went in the gaps,” he said.

Winning captain Ravichandran Ashwin was happy with the win but he pointed out that there is still room for improvement. The spinner is looking to extend their winning streak at home, which is currently at seven.

“Too close for comfort, to be brutally honest. The biggest positive for me is there is scope for improvement and there is enough capability in the dressing room to do that. I think we bowled extremely well to (David) Warner, Ankit (Rajpoot) was splendid, Sam was brilliant.

“I would love it (seven-match winning streak at home) be 11 in a row. It’s very important on this ground to bowl spinners with the new ball and Mujeeb (Ur Rahman) has always done it for Afghanistan,” Ashwin explained.

Agarwal scored a half century and put on a 114-run stand with Rahul to help Punjab chase down the target of 151. The 28-year-old admitted that things got tricky in the end, but Rahul showed enough composure to see the game through.

“With 19 off 19, somebody had to take a chance. Definitely some nerves. One over 11 needed and Nabi bowling but we backed ourselves. We enjoy batting together. I am glad he was there till the end and could finish game off,” Agarwal admitted.

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