Notoriously slow starters, Mumbai Indians played true to form at the beginning of the season, then threatened a late surge with three successive victories.

Notoriously slow starters, Mumbai Indians played true to form at the beginning of the season, then threatened a late surge with three successive victories. © BCCI

Match date: May 16

Venue: Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai

Wisden India staff

Having begun their campaign in spectacular fashion with five wins from their first six games, Kings XI Punjab have gone in the other direction in the last fortnight. Five losses in their next six matches have edged them out of the top four for the first time in IPL 2018, and R Ashwin’s men find themselves in a desperate mid-table scramble for a place in the last four.

The turnaround in their fortunes has been as spectacular as it has reiterated the overdependence on their opening pair, and KL Rahul in particular. The stylish right-hand batsman, arguably the batsman of the tournament for the manner in which he has fused grace, elegance, strength, power and strike-rate, has bailed the team out repeatedly in the company of Chris Gayle. But a misfiring middle-order and a bowling that has lost both teeth and Mujeeb Ur Rahman, the excellent spinner from Afghanistan, have been stumbling blocks that not even the brilliance of Rahul and Gayle has been able to overcome with any regularity of late.

Up against them on Wednesday (May 16) at the iconic Wankhede Stadium are the beleaguered defending champions whose hopes are hanging by the most slender of threads. Notoriously slow starters, Mumbai Indians played true to form at the beginning of the season, then threatened a late surge with three successive victories. However, defeat against Rajasthan Royals on Sunday has pegged them back massively. For them to advance beyond the first stage, not only must they win their two remaining games but also hope for other results to go their way so that the net run-rate comes into play. Should that eventuate, Mumbai will fancy their chances because they have the best run-rate of all teams in the competition.

That pretty much sums up the Mumbai campaign. When they have been good, they have been spectacularly so, stacking up commanding and convincing victories. Defeats have been narrow and frustrating, decided by key moments where they have been found wanting. Elementary errors and lapses in concentration have hit them hard, as has been the blow-hot, blow-cold middle order that shades Punjab in class and firepower, but has matched their next opponents in underachievement.

The lack of effectiveness as the season has progressed of Mayank Markande too has thrown a spanner in the works. Unknown at the start of the tournament, the leggie troubled the best with his variations and a mean googly, but batsmen have started to read him a lot better now, so that both his penetration and his economy have taken a beating. In an attack spearheaded by Jasprit Bumrah and well backed up by Mitchell McClenaghan, Hardik Pandya, Krunal Pandya and occasionally JP Duminy, it is perhaps expecting too much of the rookie to be the leader, but his diminishing returns haven’t helped Mumbai’s march towards redemption.

Defeat on Wednesday will definitely mean curtains for Mumbai, who cannot then finish with more than 12 points while at least two other teams beyond already-qualified Sunrisers Hyderabad and Chennai Super Kings will end up with a minimum of 14. In front of their passionate home fans and at a venue they justifiably claim to know really well, Mumbai won’t go down without a fight. Punjab, only slightly better off and needing to arrest a demoralising run of three solid spankings on the trot, must roll the clock back and reprise their heroics of the first half if they are not to make their last clash, against Chennai, a do-or-die shootout.

Head-to-head record
Played: 21; Mumbai 11, Punjab 10

Head-to-head at the Wankhede
Played: 6, Mumbai 2, Punjab 4.