Six straight defeats weighing them down, the Pune Warriors' enormous task of keeping their wafer-thin hopes of advancing to the play-offs alive won't get any easier as they take on table-toppers Mumbai Indians in an Indian Premier League (IPL) match in Navi Mumbai on Wednesday.
The two teams are at opposite ends of the table going into their ninth round clash at the DY Patil Stadium, with Mumbai losing only two matches and Pune winning only two. Pune have got a shot in the arm with the inclusion of the Sourav Ganguly in place Ashish Nehra in their squad, but he is unlikely to get a game on Wednesday itself.
In this Indian version of a local derby, the first leg clash between these two neighbouring city franchises had ended in defeat for Pune as they were shot out for a measly 112 before showing some fight. Mumbai went on to a seven-wicket triumph courtesy a last ball six by Rohit Sharma on that occasion.
The Warriors have only fleetingly displayed a combined effort. On days when their batting clicked, the bowlers have gone off target and vice versa.
The absence of some key players, especially South African opener Graeme Smith who picked up a freak injury after colliding with team-mate Rahul Sharma on the field while going for a high catch early in the tournament, has clearly upset the balance of the outfit.
Unheralded South African Alfonso Thomas and domestic product Rahul, with nine wickets each, have been the pick of the bowlers. But they have not got the requisite support from the others, among whom Murali Karthik, despite his vast experience in first-class cricket, has been a big disappointment.
For Mumbai, on the other hand, the worst display has been against the Royals when their strong batting led by Tendulkar failed to muster even 100 runs. But the way the iconic batsman has led the team, was no wonder Mumbai bounced back in splendid fashion with an all-round display lay low Kings XI Punjab Monday.
The batting, barring the opening partner for Tendulkar, has done the job well while the bowling has been especially good with Lasith Malinga and Munaf Patel superb in stemming the flow runs and taking wickets, along with Harbhajan Singh's off-spin.
Mumbai are likely to retain the same winning combination if wicket keeper Davy Jacobs, who suffered a thumb injury on Monday, is fit to play.