The Mumbai Indians and the Delhi Capitals were touted as the strongest teams in IPL 2020 right from the start. Both had strong first XIs, good bench strength and sufficient back-up for key players. While the Mumbai Indians played like the defending champions almost throughout the league stage, the Capitals stumbled midway before finding their footing just at the right time.
Now here they are again, face-to-face in the first Qualifier in Dubai, with the winner getting a ticket to the final. The loser will have a chance to redeem themselves in the Eliminator, but neither team would like to take that route. That's perhaps why Rohit Sharma, returning from a hamstring injury, primed himself in the Mumbai Indians' last league game even though nothing was at stake.
With both sides packed with one heavyweight bowler after another, it may come down to the batting units. On the basis of recent form, the Mumbai Indians have the upper hand there, especially with the Capitals relying heavily on Shikhar Dhawan in the second half of the tournament.
The Mumbai Indians have a better record in the playoffs as well. The four-time champions have won four of their last five playoff games. The Capitals, on the other hand, have just one win from their six playoff/semi-final appearances and have never reached the finals. Past performances or the current form, no matter how you look at it, the Mumbai Indians start as the favourites for Thursday's game.
In the news
R Ashwin went off the field as soon as he completed his quota of four overs in the Capitals' last league game, against the Royal Challengers. It's understood he was carrying a hamstring injury into the match. However, he bowled in the nets on the eve of the Qualifier, so expect him to be in action.
The Mumbai Indians did a double over the Capitals in the league stage. In the first game, Dhawan's 52-ball 69 could drag the Capitals only to 162 for 4, which the Mumbai Indians chased down with five wickets still in hand, thanks to the blistering half-centuries from Quinton de Kock and Suryakumar Yadav.
Then last week, Trent Boult and Jasprit Bumrah picked up three wickets each to restrict the Capitals to a paltry 110 for 9. Ishan Kishan's unbeaten 72 off 47 balls made short work of the chase and saw the Mumbai Indians home with nine wickets and 34 balls to spare. That game was played in Dubai, the venue for the Qualifier.
Mumbai Indians 1 Quinton de Kock (wk), 2 Rohit Sharma (capt), 3 Suryakumar Yadav, 4 Ishan Kishan, 5 Kieron Pollard, 6 Hardik Pandya, 7 Krunal Pandya, 8 Rahul Chahar, 9 James Pattinson, 10 Trent Boult, 11 Jasprit Bumrah
Delhi Capitals: 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Prithvi Shaw, 3 Ajinkya Rahane, 4 Shreyas Iyer (capt), 5 Rishabh Pant (wk), 6 Marcus Stoinis, 7 Axar Patel, 8 Kagiso Rabada, 9 R Ashwin, 10 Daniel Sams, 11 Anrich Nortje
In T20 cricket, Dhawan, Rahane and Iyer have a combined total of 159 runs at a strike rate of 134.75 against Bumrah without ever being dismissed. In contrast, each of Rishabh Pant, Marcus Stoinis and Axar Patel average less than 12 against Bumrah at a strike rate of under 110. Given Boult has provided a breakthrough inside the powerplay in ten out of the 14 games, the Mumbai Indians can use Bumrah more against the middle order than the top order.
Since 2019, Sharma's IPL strike rate against spin in the powerplay is just 90; de Kock's is 93. So the Capitals may use Ashwin early on against the Mumbai Indians openers. Ashwin has also got de Kock out three times in five T20 innings.
With the fifth bowler giving the Capitals a headache, they replaced Shimron Hetmyer with Rahane against the Royal Challengers to allow themselves to play left-arm seamer Daniel Sams. Though Sams went for 40 in his four wicketless overs, Rahane scored 60 off 46 balls from No. 3. With Prithvi Shaw still struggling for runs at the top of the order, the Capitals may continue with the same strategy, to have the experience of Rahane as a cushion.
Stats that matter
Teams batting first have won 15 out of 24 games played in Dubai this IPL. The average first-innings total at this ground has been 171.
The Mumbai Indians pacers have taken 60 wickets, the most for any team this IPL. The Capitals are just behind them with 59. They are also the only two bowling units to have an economy of under ten in overs 16 to 20.
While batting first this season, Iyer has scored 320 runs in nine innings, at an average of 40 and a strike rate of 133. Batting second, he has 101 runs in five innings, an average of 20 and a strike rate of 98.
Shaw's form has nosedived after first five games, where he scored 179 runs at an average of 35.8 and a strike rate of 148. Since then he has only 49 runs in seven innings.
Dhawan has five scores of 50 or more in this IPL but he also been dismissed in the single digits five times.