Warne-ing, but Delhi unmoved
Ticket prices that were recently raised have been slashed in what the Mumbai franchise calls a "goodwill gesture". On its last legs, the Wankhede Stadium has been given a temporary facelift and when the lights come on at 8 pm on Friday, the inaugural IPL will have its first semifinal. Jaipur, who have grown steadily stronger as the tournament unfolded, will hope that their dream run continues even as Delhi try and stun the favourites.
Virender Sehwag would not wear the underdog tag, explaining that his team had beaten Jaipur once already, but just what the pressure will be like in a semifinal playoff no one can tell. What will help Delhi is that they have already been in several must-win situations, and this should hold them in good stead.
Dennis Lillee, an advisor with the team, underscored this point. "Basically, we have been in three finals already to get in to the semifinals. If that doesn't prepare you for a semifinal, then nothing else will," said Lillee. "To get through three must-win games steel the team. It will be a huge advantage for Viru and his guys."
Jaipur's journey has been an altogether different one. Unfancied to begin with, looking distinctly loopy on paper, Shane Warne has brought an aura to the dressing room that has rubbed off onto some of the least-known cricketers and they have produced one stirring performance after another. Only in the final game, when they rested some of their big-name players did they stumble. See graphic: Route to Semis
Delhi have depended on their top-order and fast men to deliver results, and the pitch at Mumbai should suit them. Sudhir Naik, the former India opening batsman, is known for producing firm, seaming pitches and this track should be no different.
"From what we have seen of the Mumbai pitch, it does a bit, especially in the first half," said Sehwag. "Teams would like to win the toss and field first to give their bowlers a chance to exploit the conditions," he said while striking a cautionary note for batsmen. "Shot selection is important in every form of the game, and it is no different in Twenty20."
The last six weeks have been an up-and-down ride for Delhi but it will matter little once the coin is tossed in the semifinal. Three hours of hard cricket could make all the difference between a chance at the big prize and plenty of hard toil going in vain.
If hunger makes the difference between the two sides, Delhi will turn to Gautam Gambhir to bring something sizeable to the table in a match that matters. Gambhir, who has led the run charts for the majority of the tournament, recently had his orange cap snatched by Shaun Marsh of Mohali. Marsh, on 593 runs, has 70 more than Gambhir although the left-hander will be keen to settle the score as soon as possible.
The other man whose hunger should be piqued is Mohammad Asif who has missed several games with a split webbing. The hand had healed sufficiently and he bowled with fluency in the nets. The potent firm of Asif and Glenn McGrath could be back together and they'll have to be at their best to upstage Jaipur.