Mumbai: The main focus at Friday's practice session at the Wankhede Stadium was on the body language of the Mumbai Indians bowlers. Everyone was looking at hints of vulnerability. If they were nervous, there were no obvious signs. Though a bit subdued, the MI bowlers went through their preparation gamely.
However, there's no denying the fact that it's difficult to keep your confidence up when you know that, however well you perform, you still could end up in the firing line in next day's game.
It will be with this mindset that Malinga & Co will approach Saturday's match against Royal Challengers Bangalore.
The Gayle effect
In the T20 league, it's called the Chris Gayle effect. In normal times too, the nervousness is palpable in most bowling units ahead of an encounter against the Jamaican. He comes into this game at the back of the highest-ever score in this format. His unbeaten 175 has made him the hottest property in the tournament while sending shivers down the bowlers' spines.
Expectedly, the pre-match strategy in the MI camp has centred around finding a strategy to counter RCB's ace bomber. The big question is who will bell the cat.
In the obvious scenario of the lack of volunteers to take the new ball, the MI skipper's (Rohit Sharma or Ricky Ponting) main challenge will be to instill self-belief in his ranks that they have it in them to control the Gayle-force.
Johnson, the answer?
As they put their heads together to plan against the marauding opener, the MI think-tank will do well to study old cases of success against the left-hander. Now, Gayle's RCB teammate, Zaheer Khan, was one of them who can claim to have some kind of measure of the big man.
Left-arm pacer Zaheer had the knack of troubling the left-hand batsmen with his ability to take the ball away. The bowler in the MI ranks who has the potential to play that role looks to be their Australian left-arm pacer, Mitchell Johnson.
He has shown in this event that he has rediscovered the away-going ball which bends sharply, but the success will depend on getting it dead right.
Against Gayle in this kind of format, the slightest width or error in length will result in maximum punishment. Hence, accuracy will be the key.
Harbhajan will be the obvious choice from one end. MI will be hoping his natural angle against the left-handers and his experience works. The third wicket-taking option could be Lasith Malinga's toe-crushing yorker that any batsman with a high backlift is vulnerable at. The Sri Lankan, though hasn't been at the top of his game so far this season.
Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.