An explosive batting line-up, a lethal pace attack and overwhelming head-to-head domination gives Mumbai Indians the edge against Kolkata Knight Riders when the two former IPL winners face each other for the second time this season at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi on Friday.
KKR had faced their bogey team in the IPL 2020 opener in Abu Dhabi when Rohit Sharma's 54-ball 80 had guided the defending champions to a 49-run win. KKR since then, bounced back to win four out of their next five games to take a place in the top half of the points table before being crumbled by a heavy 82-run defeat against Royal Challengers Bangalore. Heading into the big game, the one aspect that will prevail is the uncertainty over Sunil Narine's return.
The T20 specialist was reported of suspect bowling action during KKR's win against Kings XI Punjab last week. He later missed the game against RCB as a surprised KKR looked for an "early resolution" to the issue. In his absence, if KKR opt to, it will only be an advantage for the defending champions.
Mumbai Indians, on the other hand, have been in a rampaging form, winning all their last four games to take the second spot in the points table, including a victory in the top-of-the-table clash against Delhi Capitals last week.
Mumbai top and middle-order is in good form – be it Quinton De Kock (191 runs) or Suryakumar Yadav (233 runs), who would like to continue in the same vein.
Ishan Kishan (186 runs) underlined his potential with a blistering 99 against RCB, but the Jharkhand player needs to convert his starts into big scores to make his presence felt.
Mumbai Indians coach Mahela Jayawardene would be pleased with the likes of Hardik Pandya and swashbuckling Kieron Pollard, who have been launching into the opposition attack with their big-hitting prowess along with Krunal Pandya.
Given the trio's abilities, they can rip apart the KKR attack, especially one sans Narine.
On the bowling front too, Mumbai looks a settled unit with Trent Boult and Jasprit Bumrah providing early breakthroughs. They are complemented by Australian James Pattinson and the trio has accounted for 31 wickets.
Spinners Rahul Chahar and Krunal will be again looking to contain the KKR batters.
Meanwhile, the biggest drawback for KKR is the inconsistent performance of their batsmen, particularly Andre Russell, who has just managed a meagre 71 runs from seven games.
There was talk of Russell being promoted up the order, but he continues to bat down and hasn't done justice to his abilities.
Kolkata also possesses a number of batsmen who can take any attack to cleaners. It comprises the young and elegant Shubman Gill, England's World Cup-winning captain Eoin Morgan, Nitish Rana and skipper Dinesh Karthik, but they have not got going barring the odd game.
The management would be hoping that come Friday, they fire in unison to reduce pressure on young guns Rahul Tripathi and Tom Banton.
KKR bowlers did well to fashion narrow victories against Kings XI Punjab and Chennai Super Kings, but were profligate against RCB when Pat Cummins and Prasidh Krishan leaked 38 and 42 runs respectively.
They would want to forget the hammering and regain form.
KKR may also look to play Kuldeep Yadav, who was dropped after playing just three games, in place of a third pacer.
He can come in handy along with mystery spinner Varun Chakravarthy, who was economical in the game against RCB.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Dinesh Karthik (Captain), Eoin Morgan, Nitish Rana, Rahul Tripathi, Rinku Singh, Shubman Gill, Siddhesh Lad, Ali Khan, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Kuldeep Yadav, Lockie Ferguson, Pat Cummins, Prasidh Krishna, Sandeep Warrior, Shivam Mavi, Varun Chakravarthy, Andre Russell, Chris Green, M Siddharth, Sunil Narine, Nikhil Naik, Tom Banton.
Mumbai Indians: Rohit Sharma (Captain), Aditya Tare, Anmolpreet Singh, Anukul Roy, Chris Lynn, Dhawal Kulkarni, Digvijay Deshmukh, Hardik Pandya, Ishan Kishan, James Pattison, Jasprit Bumrah, Jayant Yadav, Kieron Pollard, Krunal Pandya, Mitchell McClenaghan, Mohsin Khan, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Prince Balwant Rai, Quinton De Kock, Rahul Chahar, Saurabh Tiwary, Sherfane Rutherford, Suryakumar Yadav, Trent Boult.
Match starts at 7:30pm (IST).
(with PTI inputs)