IPL’s perennial slow-starters Mumbai Indians under new captain Hardik Pandya will hope for a happy homecoming when they take on a confident Rajasthan Royals at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on April 1.

Despite the change at the helm with Pandya replacing five-time title-winning skipper Rohit Sharma — a move that has sparked brutal attack on the former — Mumbai Indians have once again made a familiar disappointing start to their IPL campaign as they lost their first two matches.

A six-run defeat to Pandya’s former team Gujarat Titans was followed by a walloping by Sunrisers Hyderabad who won the record run-fest by 32 runs in Hyderabad, with Mumbai Indians plummeting to the last spot in the 10-team points table.

These are still early days in the 17th edition of the T20 league but Pandya’s Mumbai Indians will need to end their losing streak and improve their Net Run Rate which is the worst among all teams at -0.925.

Among the odds stacked up against them is the absence of Suryakumar Yadav, who remains on the sidelines as he is recovering from two separate injuries which have kept him away from the MI camp this IPL.

Even though Mumbai Indians enjoy a 4-1 head-to-head record in their last five meetings with Rajasthan Royals, the home side will have a tough task at hand given Sanju Samson’s team has turned up all guns blazing to begin their IPL season with two wins.

A big score is due from Rohit who has provided strong starts to Mumbai but what they truly need is Pandya to get his decisions right. Pandya has evidently not used Jasprit Bumrah to the best way possible and Mumbai Indians will have a chance to iron out such flaws.

Bumrah and Piyush Chawla bring the element of experience to the table in the MI bowling attack which has shown trust on local boy Shams Mulani, who is relatively new at the IPL stage but immensely experienced when it comes to playing at the Wankhede Stadium.

The young Kwena Maphaka was at the receiving end of the carnage that SRH handed to Mumbai Indians in their last game but the 17-year-old South African will only learn from experience of the hard ways that come to the bowlers’ way in such a competitive T20 league.

On their part, Rajasthan Royals will look to keep ticking all the boxes after two wins at the start.

Samson remains dangerous in the early stages of the IPL while the immensely talented Yashasvi Jaiswal, who is yet to fire in this IPL, would be keen to get his first big score of this season.

Jaiswal is returning to his home ground where he had blazed a 62-ball 124 albeit for a losing cause in their last meeting here, and he will be eager to stamp his class.

Riyan Parag is primed to continue his ascent as a mature middle-order batter, whereas for Mumbai, Tilak Varma, Tim David and Naman Dhir would aim to make the most of their positive starts.

Apart from having a long batting line-up which also boasts of the dangerous Jos Buttler at the top and Dhruv Jurel to provide finishing touches, it is their all-round bowling attack which puts forth a lot of promise.

While Nandre Burger has teamed up well with Trent Boult for early inroads, the spin duo of Ravichandran Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal can control the flow of runs in the middle.

Avesh Khan’s control at the death along with Sandeep Sharma is Royals’ forte and has been among crucial factors for Rajasthan’s fine show so far.

The Squads

Mumbai Indians: Hardik Pandya (c), Rohit Sharma, Dewald Brevis, Jasprit Bumrah, Piyush Chawla, Gerald Coetzee, Tim David, Shreyas Gopal, Ishan Kishan (wk), Anshul Kamboj, Kumar Kartikeya, Akash Madhwal, Kwena Maphaka, Mohammad Nabi, Shams Mulani, Naman Dhir, Shivalik Sharma, Romario Shepherd, Arjun Tendulkar, Nuwan Thushara, Tilak Varma, Vishnu Vinod, Nehal Wadhera, Luke Wood, Suryakumar Yadav.

Rajasthan Royals: Sanju Samson (c), Abid Mushtaq, Avesh Khan, Dhruv Jurel, Donovan Ferreira, Jos Buttler (wk), Kuldeep Sen, Kunal Singh Rathore, Nandre Burger, Navdeep Saini, Ravichandran Ashwin, Riyan Parag, Sandeep Sharma, Shimron Hetmyer, Shubham Dubey, Rovman Powell, Tom Kohler-Cadmore, Trent Boult, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Yuzvendra Chahal, Tanush Kotian.

Match starts: 7:30 p.m. IST.


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