Mumbai have been good but not good enough, having lost all their three games so far by minimal margins, they'll want to correct that soon. © BCCI

Mumbai have been good but not good enough, having lost all their three games so far by minimal margins, they’ll want to correct that soon. © BCCI

Match date: April 17

Venue: Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai

It’s a mouth-watering clash between two titans, one of them led by the Indian captain, the other by the man who stands in as Indian captain in limited-overs formats when the original takes a break. There is little Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma don’t know about each other or the opposition, and if there ever is an opportune time to make the most of that knowledge, it would be now.

The cold, hard facts first. Mumbai Indians, the defending champions, the only team to have won the Indian Premier League title thrice, are languishing at the foot of the table after starting their campaign with three consecutive defeats. Royal Challengers Bangalore, perennial batting powerhouses, are only slightly better off, lying sixth of eight after a sole win from three outings. Another defeat for either side on Tuesday (April 17), and the playoff spot that they must have thought was theirs by right will nudge a little further away.

Three losses from three isn’t something Mumbai, notorious for being slow starters, are unaccustomed to, but even their staunchest critics will agree that they certainly deserve better. Admittedly, they have floundered at the crunch, but two of those three defeats have come by one-wicket margins. Two of three defeats have been settled off the last ball of the contest. Add to it a penultimate-ball heartbreak in the tournament opener against Chennai Super Kings, and you can sense Rohit’s frustration at being good, but just not good enough.

The batting meltdown in the last match against Delhi Daredevils at the same venue must be particularly galling. Suryakumar Yadav, in his first outing as opener, and Evin Lewis got them off to a cracker – 84 in the Power Play, 102 for the first wicket in nine overs. From there to limp to 194 for 7, following a burst of 4 for 21 in 22 deliveries from overs 16 through 20, was a massive comedown for a team brimful of middle-order muscle.

Rohit’s own form has been underwhelming – he has only made 44 runs in three innings – and that will also bring creases of worry to the forehead of the proud skipper. Jasprit Bumrah and Maynak Markande, the new legspinning sensation, have been brilliant while Krunal Pandya has been his industrious self, but Mumbai are still searching for the right bowling combination.

Unless they get that combination right, and unless that combine is on the money, they will be taken apart by Bangalore. In theory, at least. Kohli’s top order is the envy of the tournament – Quinton de Kock, Brendon McCullum, the skipper himself and the mercurial AB de Villiers – but Bangalore’s batting has blown more cold than hot. There could be a case for McCullum to be left out for a more versatile all-round option, possibly Colin de Grandhomme, following consecutive failures at the Chinnaswamy, but more than the batting, it is the bowling that will haunt Kohli.

When they get it right, like against Kings XI Punjab last Friday, Bangalore can be very good. But when things go wrong, like on Sunday when Sanju Samson muscled Rajasthan Royals to 217 for 4, they can look extremely ordinary. Kulwant Khejroliya could be on borrowed time, especially with plenty of homegrown pace options in the hut. Bangalore, however, have managed to remain upbeat despite their recent travails, and that could work in their favour if Mumbai allow themselves to wallow in self-pity and what might have been.

Head-to-head record

Played: 21, Mumbai 13, Bangalore 8

Head-to-head at Wankhede

Played 6: Mumbai 3, Bangalore 3