MI, RCB gear up for Battle Royale

WPL 2024

Both teams have had significantly different campaigns from last year.

"If we could do exactly the same, we'd be pretty happy with that." Luke Williams, the RCB head coach, knows their re-match against Mumbai Indians in the WPL 2024 Eliminator on Friday (March 15) won't be as easy.

Skipper Harmanpreet Kaur's whirlwind 95* had already put Mumbai in the playoffs before the Ellyse Perry-led seven-wicket thrashing at the hands of Royal Challengers Bangalore earlier this week that cost them a direct seat in the tournament finale for a second successive year. Whilst remarkably led by their in-form captain, Mumbai, as a team, have not enjoyed that dominant a run this season - their five victories interspersed by three comprehensive losses.

But a hurt MI unit can be a different beast altogether. Ask UP Warriorz, who inflicted a five-wicket defeat to similarly dent MI's direct qualification berth last year only to be completely outplayed in the subsequent Eliminator.

"Don't you think history is repeating itself?" batting coach Devieka Palshikaar quipped on the eve of the game. The Mumbai camp is seeing this as a good omen, hoping to confront RCB with the allround might they're known for, and showcase their bouncebackability to make the final showdown, co-incidentally against Delhi Capitals once more.

However, this isn't the RCB of last year that lost five on the trot to be practically out of the knockouts race even before they could find their feet in the competition. The reformed and refurbished Smriti Mandhana-led outfit has shown pluck on the field and been much calmer off it. Unlike last year, RCB have had different contributors stepping up on different occasions to help the team redeem itself - be it Asha Sobhana's fifer on the opening night or Mandhana's roaring return to form; be it young Richa Ghosh coming of age or the experienced Perry rewinding the clock.

A couple of close games going their way could have made life easier, and less heartbreaking. But, that they remained incharge of their fate till the end was a big shot in the arm ahead of the "virtual quarterfinal" RCB treated their final league game against MI as. That said, RCB are cognizant of the challenge at hand now - of downing the reigning champions again before they can think of the final hurdle - and the fact that they've admittedly been nowhere near perfect thus far. On Friday, anything less will not fly.

When: Friday, March 15 at 7:30 PM IST

Where: Arun Jaitley Stadium, Delhi

What to expect: The centre pitches that are being prepared for the knockouts have been full of runs in WPL 2024. Expect more of the same. Dew hasn't been much of a factor in the Delhi leg. The captains have actually reversed the trend and opted to put runs on the board first, and it could be no different on Friday. Weather wise, there's no interruption expected.

Team News

Mumbai Indians

Yastika Bhatia, who missed Mumbai's last league game due to an illness is said to have recovered well and practiced with the team on the eve of the knockout clash. MI confirmed the return of their regular wicketkeeper-cum-opener, meaning S Sajana will likely drop down in the batting order to the finisher's role. Priyanka Bala, therefore, will make way in the only change expected to Mumbai's XI.

Probable XI: Hayley Matthews, Yastika Bhatia (wk), Nat Sciver-Brunt, Harmanpreet Kaur (C), Amelia Kerr, Pooja Vastrakar, S Sajana, Amanjot Kaur, Humaria Kaazi, Shabnim Ismail, Saika Ishaque

Royal Challengers Bangalore

The drop down in the batting order hasn't exactly clicked for Sophie Devine either but RCB might be wary of making any drastic changes in their first knockout match of WPL. S Meghana, who sat out the last couple of games in a difficult tactical call for RCB, could return to the XI in place of Disha Kasat. Between her and Sophie Molineux, RCB have a host of opening combinations to bank on depending on the conditions and match-ups. They'll also likely continue backing left-arm seamer Shraddha Pokharkar.

Probable XI: Smriti Mandhana (C), Sophie Molineux, Ellyse Perry, Sophie Devine, Richa Ghosh (wk), Georgia Wareham, S Meghana, Shreyanka Patil, Asha Sobhana, Shraddha Pokharkar, Renuka Thakur

Did you know?

- MI have a 3-1 win-loss record against RCB in WPL

- Amelia Kerr has bagged the Player of the Match in two of those three wins

- Ellyse Perry is just 1 run away from becoming the fourth batter - after Meg Lanning, Harmanpreet Kaur and Shafali Verma - to register 500 WPL runs

What they said:

Devieka Palshikaar, MI batting coach,

"Meghana missed out on the last game or two [since] we were trying out different combinations. It's a really tough decision with her because she was influential in our early wins in the tournament. [But] there's aspects of our team combinations that we wanted to keep trying different things as well. We'll have some meetings post practice today and she'll be in strong consideration in terms of the line-up for tomorrow," - Luke Williams, RCB head coach, on benching S Meghana