It's advantage Mumbai Indians on paper
Decimated by injuries but spirited nonetheless, Mumbai Indians will bank on their familiarity with the conditions to fight through another tough challenge when they take on England's Somerset in the semi-final of the Champions League Twenty20 at the M A Chidambaram stadium, in Chennai, on Saturday.
Despite being an injury-ravaged side, the chances of Mumbai Indians -- without eight key players such as skipper Sachin Tendulkar, pacers Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel and batsman Rohit Sharma -- are brighter than Somerset, who reached the Champions League group stage through qualification.
Mumbai faced some anxious moments when Kieron Pollard hurt himself during the nets but the team management indicated that the West Indian all-rounder will be available for the semi-final.
Both these teams were written off before the tournament, but both have defied skeptics to gatecrash their way into the semi-finals.
However, the Harbhajan Singh-led Mumbai have a slight edge since they are better equipped to handle the conditions having played two of their matches on the slow pitch in Chennai.
On the other hand, Somerset, having played their qualifying rounds in Hyderabad and then their Group-B league ties in Bangalore and Hyderabad, will find it difficult to adapt.
Image: Harbhajan Singh
Out-of-form Symonds, Pollard add to Mumbai's woes
Mumbai have ridden on a dash of audacity and chance, be it overhauling imposing totals they looked certain to fall short of or winning narrow encounters they should have closed out comfortably.
A late blitz by Lasith Malinga took Mumbai past a tottering Chennai Super Kings who until then had the game under control and the Harbhajan-led side barely survived to beat Trinidad and Tobago chasing a target of 99 for their two victories in Group A.
Somerset, led by veteran South African Alfonso Thomas, kept one IPL side out of the last four stage (Kolkata Knight Riders) and qualified on top of the other (Royal Challengers Bangalore) for the semi-finals.
Mumbai's chief concern at the moment is the total lack of form of two of their key foreign players, Andrew Symonds, who is woefully short of match fitness, and Pollard who, barring a top score of 58 in the washed out game against Nashua Cape Cobras, seems to have left his heavy bat back home.
It has obviously put a lot of pressure on the team that, in the process, has not consistently excelled with the bat or the ball in the manner of a champion side, but profited on some timely breaks to progress thus far.
Image: Andrew Symonds
Captain Thomas is Somerset's anchor
Considering that Somerset had to get through the qualifying competition, reaching the semifinals of the main draw is certainly a fine achievement and a tribute to their all-round strength besides the smart, if not spectacular, cricket they have played so far.
In fact, though short on collective international experience, Thomas, apart from his restrictive but effective seam-up bowling, has marshaled his resources quite well, to somewhat compensate for the lack of aura around the team.
Though Somerset don't have a varied spin attack like Trinidad and Tobago to excel on the Chennai pitch, Rafael van der Merwe's left arm orthodox and Thomas's fast medium has done the job for them this year.
Image: Alfonso Thomas
'In-house expert' Karthik could turn things Somerset's way
They also have an in-house expert on Indian conditions in Murali Karthik, the India international who turns out for Somerset these days. Karthik, a Chennai native will certainly help the team with his knowhow of local conditions.
For Somerset, the batting threat will chiefly come from van der Merwe, Peter Trego and Craig Kieswetter. Van der Merwe, in particular, has excelled with both bat and ball, taking 169 runs and five wickets.
Trego has slammed two half centuries, while Kieswetter has played knocks belying his years, including an unbeaten 56 against Warriors in their crucial final group match.
Image: Murali Karthik
Top order's failure worries Pollock
Mumbai Indians coach Shaun Pollock has already claimed that the advantage of having played on the new wicket will aid his side in Saturday's tie.
"We've played two games and managed to experience what the conditions are all about. We know what to expect," he had said on Thursday.
Pollock has said his side has a separate plan for each of the Somerset batsmen, including the in-form Craig Kieswetter and van der Merwe.
But he will also be concerned about the failure of his team's top order. Except the rain-marred match in Bangalore, against Cape Cobras, where they scored 176/5, the team has struggled to put runs on the board.
Image: Shaun Pollock