With Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers, Virat Kohli and Shane Watson in their ranks, Royal Challengers Bangalore boast of the best top order in IPL 9.
Gayle won’t play against Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede on Wednesday, but it will do little to diminish just how formidable the RCB batting line-up looks, given the way the hosts’ bowlers have performed.
Earlier this week, Mumbai were jolted by the news that pace spearhead Lasith Malinga would miss the season due to a knee injury. The Sri Lankan was Mumbai’s highest wicket-taker the last two seasons, claiming 24 scalps from 15 innings in 2015 and 16 wickets in 2014.
“Malinga, if not the best T20 bowler that there has ever been, will be very close to being that. Obviously, he being ruled out of the tournament is a big loss,” Mumbai coach Ricky Ponting said on Tuesday.
Alarmingly for the hosts, veteran offie Harbhajan Singh, who used to be one of Mumbai’s key bowlers not many seasons ago, has not been able to fill the massive void left behind by Malinga.
The off-spinner has claimed just two wickets in four matches, with an economy rate hovering between 7.75 and 10. His most notable performance came against Rising Pune Supergiants, an unbeaten knock of 45 that helped Mumbai’s total gain some respectability in their opener.
While Ponting went on to praise his bowlers, he chose not to mention Harbhajan. “Our bowling has been pretty good right through the tournament. (Tim) Southee was outstanding the last time, (Mitchell) McClenaghan has been outstanding in a few of his games and (Jasprit) Bumrah has been good.”
The last few months have been trying for the 35-year-old. In the Asia Cup T20, Harbhajan was picked but ended up playing just one match --- the inconsequential encounter against UAE, where he claimed one wicket. In the World T20, the off-spinner did not get any game time.
To emphasise how important Harbhajan can be to Mumbai, one needs to revisit the encounter between the two teams a year back at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. On that day, Harbhajan was almost unplayable, returning figures of 3-27, which included the scalps of Gayle, Manvinder Bisla and Rilee Rossouw.