Mumbai Indians v Rajasthan Royals: Something's got to give in crunch tie

Jos Buttler Rajasthan Royals
Jos Buttler is currently on a Royal hot streak in IPL 2018
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Two sides with genuine momentum meet in a near must win game and James Buttler thinks Rajasthan Royals could spring a surprise...

"I think Rajasthan can go all the way this season. My pick at the start of the tournament was Sunrisers Hyderabad and, if like me, you have the tournament favourites already up your sleeve, a cover punt on Rajasthan at a healthy 4/1 to make the final four might become a shrewd investment."

Mumbai Indians v Rajasthan Royals
Sunday May 13, 15:30
Live on Sky Sports Cricket

Mumbai Indians on a customary late charge

Mumbai are hitting their straps at the right time and are known as the side that leaves it late, but often gets there. After a slow start in IPL 2018 where they managed just one win in their first six matches, the Rohit Sharma led franchise has been victorious in four of five games, including the last three on the bounce. Confidence or momentum or whatever you want to call the positivity that winning T20 games produces is huge and the Indians currently hold all the aces in that regard.

While the majority of Mumbai's well-balanced side are household names, Mayank Markande is a 20-year-old leg-spinner who has enjoyed a breakthrough few weeks. With remarkable control for a young wrist-spinner he has taken 14 wickets in the 11 matches so far and gone at only 7.80 runs per over. His initial surprise factor may have gone now, but he's mature beyond his years and only Hardik Pandya (16) has taken more IPL 2018 wickets in a Mumbai shirt.

While Mumbai are the form horse at this IPL they cannot afford mistakes. With 16 points the likely target to guarantee a Playoff berth the Indians and Rajasthan may need to win their three remaining games. In effect whoever loses in Mumbai on Sunday is teetering on the edge of elimination.

Rajasthan Royals getting better all the time

The Royals have underperformed in IPL 2018, yet still have a genuine chance of progression despite a number of their side disappointing so far. This could be looked at two ways. A pessimist would suggest their luck will run out, where a glass is half full view is they can only get better.

Jos Buttler has been the man to guide them to a realistic chance of a Playoff berth. The Englishman has scored four consecutive fifties in this IPL and his unbeaten 95 from 60 deliveries in a penultimate ball win over Chennai Super Kings on Friday was a masterclass in how to pace a chase. That knock followed scores of 82, 51 and 67 in a run that has made him one of the hottest properties in the tournament. It's unrealistic to think he can carry on at such a pace in the riskiest format of the game.

The move to promote Ben Stokes to open with Buttler against Chennai was nearly a success. The all-rounder had endured a woeful return in IPL 2018 by his standards and had hit a four and six from consecutive Harbjahan twirlers before being bamboozled by the verteran spinner. Stokes batting in the powerplay overs is a Shane Warne strategy worth pursuing.

The Royals go to Mumbai level on points with the Indians and my next statement could leave egg on my face in a couple of days time. I think Rajasthan can go all the way this season. My pick at the start of the tournament was Sunrisers Hyderabad and, if like me, you have the tournament favourites already up your sleeve, a cover punt on Rajasthan at a healthy 4/1 to make the final four might become a shrewd investment. If they beat Mumbai they are nearly there.

Squeeky bum time for both sides with three to play

These two sides have met 20 times with Mumbai leading the contest by 11 matches to eight with one abandonment. Mumbai have won four of the last six encounters, but Rajasthan have taken two of the last three games, including a three wicket win at Jaipur on 23 April, earlier in IPL 2018.

Crucially though, the sides have played each other five times at the Wankhede Stadium with Mumbai taking the points on four occasions. That history at the ground allied to the respective fortunes during this IPL makes Mumbai the favourites at [1.73]. In four meetings on a Sunday Mumbai have also won on every occasion. But I'm going with my gut here and backing Rajasthan to win this match at [2.38] - it's a price play on a side rapidly growing in stature.

A nibble on the Pandyas the play

Suryakumar Yadav has been the star show for the Indians with 435 runs and four fifties. Rohit Sharma (267), Evin Lewis (265) and Ishan Kishan (238) have also sailed passed the 200-mark and appear to be getting better as the tournament progresses. With the Pandya brothers also scoring heavily in an all-round capacity this market is a tough one to gauge and has to be a value punt.

For me, both Lewis (12/5) and Yadav (11/4) are too short in a congested list and Rohit Sharma looks better value at 7/2. Ishan Kishan (9/2) also provides some appeal, but Sharma is the pedigree player and one to trust. The cover nibble on the Pandya's would be a wise move. If early wickets tumble both Hardik at 13/1 and Krunal at 25/1 would be worthy of a half-stakes punt.

Can Buttler continue to fire?

Jos Buttler is the obvious play here at 11/4, but after four fifties on the bounce can he continue at this pace? Starting on nought against Mumbai he's as likely to fall early as anyone and therefore the value can be found elsewhere with Ben Stokes who simply is to good to continue to fail. Stokes is the best all-rounder in world cricket and, particularly if he opens the innings, will score runs before too long. At 9/2 he's too big to ignore. Krishnappa Gowtham looked in fine nick against Chennai with a quick-fire 13 in the chase and is a decent nibble at 22/1.

"Yes, No, Maybe", but definitely a play

At 7/4 this market is back as a strong play in IPL 2018, particularly in games like this where neither side can afford to lose. It's begun to land again with regularity and at 7/4 makes plenty of sense.


*Follow James on Twitter @cricket_badger

James Buttler at IPL 2018

Staked: 46.5pts
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At IPL 2017

Staked: 47pts
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P/L: +3.36pts

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