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Cricket news - Can Mumbai stop CSK at 'fortress' Chepauk?

Can CSK be beaten at home?

It's reaching that stage of the tournament where each and every match matters, may be not that much for the high-flying Chennai Super Kings, but definitely for the rest of the chasing pack. As such, Wednesday (April 24th) night's result (RCB beating KXIP) was perhaps the best possible news for at least two teams, the Sunrisers from Hyderabad and the Mumbai Indians. More tellingly for the latter, it gives them a chance to open up a four-point lead between themselves and the team chasing them in the fourth position. Having said that, it isn't as easy as it looks - for Mumbai to get to that comfort region, they will have to find a way to beat table-toppers, Chennai Super Kings, in Chennai, a venue where the hosts haven't lost a game this season.

Having set foot in the city, the Mumbai Indians were back to some early business. It is with this intent that they opted for an extra round of practice on Wednesday (April 24th), ahead of the game on Friday. It was also the D-day for their much celebrated mentor, but professionals that they are, Rohit and his team preferred the rigorous bout of training rather than merry-making.

Having started with a light fielding drill, the action moved onto the nets - set perpendicular to the main pitch with Lasith Malinga, Jasprit Bumrah, the Pandya brothers, Mitchell McClenaghan, Ben Cutting and Rahul Chahar spending plenty of time honing their skills. The intensity was there for all to see - having started bowling with a short run-up, Malinga and Bumrah then went back to their usual run-up - as they tried an assortment of varieties - the short balls, the length balls, the wide yorkers and the slower ones. Following them was Hardik - whose bowling has improved as the tournament progressed.

It's been a season of halves for the Mumbai Indians. As has been in their veins, they started off on a losing note and a huge non no-ball controversy earned them points against Royal Challengers Bangalore. Then came the disappointing defeat at home to Ashwin's Kings, but it also proved to be the turning point of their #IPL2019 campaign. And that resurgence started with a win against Chennai Super Kings - so going into Friday's match, if they look back for inspiration, they have one right in front of them.

Unlike last season, the Mumbai Indians haven't the kept the charge for late - they are four points better off at this stage (after 10 matches) and then they have two games left against Kolkata Knight Riders - their perennial whipping boys. There's a strange feeling of stability in this franchise. The top-three have remained the same for most of the course of the tournament, in Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya, they have enough firepower at the death, throw in the other Pandya (Krunal) and the big-hitting, Ben Cutting, it's fair to say they enjoy an embarrassment of riches. Jasprit Bumrah has linked well with his former bowling partner turned mentor and back to being his bowling partner in Lasith Malinga while Rahul Chahar has rewarded his franchise for the 'belief in him'.

Is it the perfect world though?

No, the mid-innings slowdown is an issue that hasn't been addressed as yet; Rohit Sharma at the top was a good idea but that thought hasn't been backed by runs; Who after Malinga and Bumrah? It's been a merry-go-round with the Mumbai Indians starting with Jason Behrendorff and McClenaghan, getting Alzarri Joseph in the mix and now reverting to Ben Cutting; Injuries didn't help either; A's injury caused B to come in, only for the latter to injure himself and let the door open for C. Yes, we are talking about Adam Milne, Alzarri Joseph and Beuran Hendricks.

Have Mumbai Indians used their resources to the maximum?

The answer is both yes and no. Rohit Sharma at the top of the order gives serenity to the batting order and it's only just that your best batsman gets to face the most balls in a Twenty20 contest, in Quinton de Kock - they have found a consistent wicket-keeper batsman, allowing them the luxury of using either Yuvraj Singh or Ishan Kishan in the middle-order, a constant at three - Surya Kumar Yadav, despite his modest average and strike-rate, has been solid. It's a luxury the Mumbai Indians can afford, but it also means they are always short of optimizing their firepower.

So, where are the areas they can improve?

Pacing the innings is a grey matter for the Mumbai Indians at the moment. The mid-innings stumbles have been masked by the power-hitting of Hardik Pandya and Kieron Pollard, but it has only served to tape over the cracks. Can they use Hardik, the batsman better? With his new technique that brings in plenty of power to target the arc between long-on and deep mid-wicket, Hardik's strike-rate of 189.8 is bettered only by the Knight Rider, Andre Russell (considering players with a minimum of 200 runs). Yet, like his Kolkata counterpart, Hardik has hardly got opportunities to bat long. The insistence of playing a fixed top-three and then rotating the finishers in accordance with the situation of the match hasn't reaped rewards for the Mumbai based franchise.

The captaincy call

While runs haven't exactly flowed from Rohit's blade, one thing that stands him out from the crowd is his unfussed captaincy. 228 runs from 9 innings is definitely a poor return for a player of Rohit's standards, but his field placements and tactical maneuvers have been impressive. The management though believes that a big innings is just around the corner. "Obviously, anyone who isn't scoring runs or taking wickets is bound to be under some pressure, but we know the type of player he is and I am sure he's not far away from scoring a big one in the coming games, Beuran Hendricks, MI's latest acquisition said," ahead of the match against CSK.

The challenge in Chennai?

Unlike the true and bouncy Wankhede surface, the Chepauk's pitch has been in the news for all the wrong reasons - at least until the game against the Sunrisers. Slow, low, up and down, spinning and turning square - well, these were the traits until last Tuesday - when it rolled out a batting beauty. If and that's a big if, Chennai do sport a similar track, the visitors have plenty of armory to set or chase down any target, but if it turns out to be a customary Chepauk track - the turgidness of MI's top-order might come under notice once again.

"I actually thought that the pitch had improved from the last match. The pitch I thought really improved for the last match, it played really well, we aren't sure what a good score was, but having seen the batsmen hit through the line, it showed that the pitch played better, it was coming onto the bat, it's a good sign, I think," Michael Hussey, the CSK batting coach said, evaluating the conditions.

Friday is a big day then for the Mumbai Indians. Two points and the road towards top-two qualification will be on the right path. A loss and they will be back in the mid-table scramble - going into the final quarter of the league stage. For the Mumbai Indians, nothing really matters. This is a franchise that has won three tournaments under Rohit, they have the knack to win the big moments and they know to battle back from the brink. On Friday, they will have to do a bit of everything.

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