Friday, April 17, 2009

Mumbai Indians | Mission Possible with the greatest opening pair - Sanath Jayasuriya and Sachin Tendulkar

Maximum: Sanath Jayasuriya hit the most sixes in IPL's first season

Sachin Tendulkar was fit only for the second half of the season, while his countrymate Harbhajan Singh got himself banned for slapping Sreesanth, of Kings XI Punjab, in the face. And while Shaun Pollock, of South Africa, did his best as the third-choice captain, it can’t have been easy inheriting a demoralised team that had lost its first three games.

Pollock may feel more comfortable in his new role as coach, particularly as the Indians are shaping up more convincingly this time around. They have done a couple of smart swap deals that have brought in Zaheer Khan from Bangalore and Shikhar Dhawan from Delhi — two very handy signings. And the $950,000 that they spent on South Africa’s Jean-Paul Duminy at the international player auction is looking even better business now than it did a few weeks ago. With a strong South African influence in the side, Mumbai should be able to compete with anybody when it comes to local knowledge.

English fans will be hoping to see a few appearances from Graham Napier, the sensation of last year’s domestic Twenty20 Cup. He is a good example of what can be achieved by players who specialise. Since Essex told him to focus on developing his one-day skills, at the start of the 2008 season, he has been a revelation.

Mumbai already have the leading six-hitter of the 2008 IPL in the shape of Sanath Jayasuriya — unquestionably their player of the year. When Jayasuriya batted with Tendulkar, the Indians were able to get away to some flying starts: their average opening stand realised 57 runs from just six overs.
The target this year should be to capitalise better on those early blitzes, and the presence of Napier and Dwayne Bravo, of the West Indies, in the squad should come in handy there.
Look out too for the spinners: Harbhajan through the middle of the innings, and India’s experienced slow left-armer Nilesh Kulkarni, now in his 15th season of top-flight cricket. There are few more under-rated players in the game.

Oddly, the shift away from India might help Mumbai relax a little more. There is a certain pressure that comes with representing the biggest and proudest city in the country. And the pitches at their home grounds weren’t always the easiest to play on, either. When they are let out in Cape Town, on the opening night of the 2009 tournament, they could find they play with a new-found freedom.

Key man: Sanath Jayasuriya

Likely starting XI: Sanath Jayasuriya, Sachin Tendulkar, Shikhar Dhawan, JP Duminy, Dwayne Bravo, Abhishek Nayar, Yogesh Takawale (wk), Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Dhawal Kulkarni, Lasith Malinga.

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