Mumbai: Six straight defeats weighing them down, debutants Pune Warriors' enormous task of keeping their wafer-thin hopes of advancing to the next stage alive doesn't get any easier as they take on table-toppers Mumbai Indians in an Indian Premier League match on Wednesday. (Also Read: Ready to open for Pune, says Ganguly)
The two teams are on opposite ends of the win-loss table going into their ninth round clash at the D Y Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai.
Pune have, however, got a shot in the arm with the inclusion of the Sourav Ganguly in place of the injured pacer Ashish Nehra on Tuesday. But it remains to be seen whether he would get a game.
Mumbai bounced back from a hiccup against Rajasthan Royals to notch up their sixth victory in eight ties on Monday against Kings XI Punjab at the Wankhede Stadium while Pune went down to the same Jaipur franchise two days ago for their sixth loss in eight games.
The six-wicket defeat to the Royals has put the Warriors at the bottom of the 10-team ladder with just four points to their tally. Another defeat would put their campaign off track, making the rest of their round robin engagements into matters of only academic interest.
In such a do-or-die situation, the Yuvraj Singh-led Pune need to show iron-clad nerves to pull it through against the high-flying Mumbai, led by Sachin Tendulkar, in what is termed as the local "Derby" and carry off a stunning victory.
The first leg clash between these two neighbouring city franchises had ended in a massive defeat for Yuvraj and Co. as they were shot out for a measly 112 in just over 17 overs by their rivals who went on to complete a seven-wicket triumph.
The Warriors have shown only fleetingly the desired combined effort after notching up two impressive victories at the beginning. If the batting clicked, the bowlers have gone off target and if the latter delivered, the batsmen had flopped.
The absence of some key players, especially South African opener Graeme Smith who picked up a freak injury after colliding with teammate Rahul Sharma on the field while going for a high catch early in the tournament, has clearly upset the balance of the outfit.
The team has tried out Manish Pandey, after he served out his four-match ban, to partner Jesse Ryder after Smith's injury, but it has not produced the desired result as far as the opening partnership is concerned.
Only in the last match did Pandey show he has dusted off the rust in his batting to some extent, but Ryder did not follow suit and the stand was broken at 24.
Robin Uthappa, the other Karnataka Ranji player in the squad with Pandey, has got good starts and a couple of 30s and 40s, but poor shot selection has often led to his downfall. Yuvraj has had to do single-handedly most of the things with the bat which alone has not been enough to get them the points.
The swashbuckling left-hander and India's World Cup hero has been the top run-getter with 239 runs at 47 per innings but Uthappa (191) and Ryder (223) have not been as consistent at the top of the order.
Unheralded Alphonso Thomas of South Africa and domestic product Rahul Sharma, with nine wickets each, have been the pick of the bowlers.
But they have not got the requisite support from the others in which Murali Karthik, despite his vast experience in first-class cricket, has been a big disappointment.
The left-arm spin bowler has not only leaked runs aplenty but also secured just a solitary wicket, thus undermining the bowling department's effectiveness.
In contrast to the Warriors, is the situation in which Mumbai Indians find themselves in.
They are sitting pretty with 12 points to their credit and are well on course to book an early berth in the play-offs commencing on May 24 as one of the top four finishers in the round robin phase.
Munbai's worst display so far has been against the Royals when their strong batting led by Tendulkar failed to muster even a 100 runs.
But the way the iconic batsman has led the team, it was no wonder Mumbai bounced back in splendid fashion with a top-drawer all round display to lay low Kings XI last night at home.
Though Tendulkar and the other batsman-in-form Ambati Rayudu compiled half centuries and put on 95 runs, the man of the match award went to Kieron Pollard for his eclectic mix of effective lower order bating (20 in 11 balls), athletic fielding (2 catches and splendid stops) and efficient bowling (one wicket).
The batting, barring the opening partner for Tendulkar, has done the job well while the bowling has been especially good with Lasith Malinga and Munaf Patel superb in stemming runs and taking wickets along with Harbhajan Singh with his off-spin bowling.
They made a couple of changes in the line-up with the under-performing R Satish giving way to T Suman and medium pacer Abu Nechim coming in for left-arm slow bowler Ali Murtaza.
Mumbai are likely to retain the same winning combination if wicket keeper Davy Jacobs, who suffered a thumb injury in the game against Kings XI, is fit to play.
The Warriors, on the other hand, would need to tweak their line-up which has not delivered in a sustained manner so far and also hope that Mumbai have an off day.
Crowd support would be mixed with Tendulkar and his band of battle-hardened men drawing as much backing from the packed gathering as the Warriors for whom it's a home game.
Mumbai Indians: Sachin Tendulkar (capt.), Ambati Rayudu, Harbhajan Singh, Rohit Sharma, Munaf Patel, Kieron Pollard, Lasith Malinga, Andrew Symonds, Davy Jacobs, James Franklin, Dilhara Fernando, Ray Price, Abu Nechim Ahmed, Aditya Tare, Ali Murtaza, Dhawal Kulkarni, Pawan Suyal, R Satish, Sarul Kanwar, Suryakumar Yadav, T Suman, Yuzvendra Singh Chahai.
Pune Warriors: Yuvraj Singh (capt.), Robin Uthappa, Murali Kartik, Abhishek Jhunjhunwala, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Deeraj Jadhav, Eklavya Dwivedi, Ganesh Gaikwad, Harpreet Singh Bhatia, Harshad Khadiwale, Kamran Khan, Mithun Manhas, Mohnish Mishra, Rahul Sharma, Sachin Rana, Shrikant Wagh, Shrikant Mundhe, Imtiyaz Ahmed, Jesse Ryder, Graeme Smith, Wayne Parnell, Alphonso Thomas, Tim Paine, Callum Ferguson, Mitchell Marsh, Jerome Taylor, James Faulkner.