In the inaugural match of the ninth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) at the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai Indians’ (MI) captain won the toss and chose to bat first against Rising Pune Supergiants (RPS). They were walloped by the new franchise, albeit the defending champions’ batsmen had to take the majority of the blame for their side’s defeat. Indian Cricket Team lost to West Indies in the semi-finals of the ICC World Twenty20 2016 not so long ago, despite piling on 192 batting first. At the same venue on Wednesday night, against a star-studded Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) side, Rohit Sharma won a toss for the third time this campaign. He invited the opposition to bat first and Mumbai won again, chasing a challenging total of 171.
In hindsight, Rohit’s decision to bat first against MS Dhoni’s side looks bizarre now. The size of the venue and the possibility of dew make it difficult to defend totals at the Wankhede. Mumbai’s strong suit so far has been their bowling. They very nearly defended a paltry 144 against Gujarat Lions (GL) in their third match and were kept in the game by their bowlers, who were tasked with defending 143, a couple of nights ago against Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH). By opting to bowl first against RCB, MI transferred the pressure onto the South Indian franchise, which does boast of a fearsome batting lineup, even minus Chris Gayle.
MI’s bowling came good again and wasn’t overawed by the presence of Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers in the middle. The story might have been different had the dynamic duo not been separated and then annihilated completely, by Krunal Pandya in the 11th over of their innings. But then, you can put it down to the pressure RCB would have felt because they were batting first and had to put up a sizeable total on the board.
Separating the Kohli-de Villiers partnership stifled RCB and allowed MI to rise, quite meteorically. Travis Head and Sarfaraz Khan batted well towards the end and pushed their team’s total up to 170, which, mind you, was a competitive score.
Why will the Indians be satisfied – even more than they would have been following the victory against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) – with their win against Royal Challengers?
The bowlers did a good job to keep RCB down to 170, but the batsmen, who had disappointed on all but one occasion prior to Wednesday night, still needed to bat well to overhaul the score. MI’s biggest problem this season has been in finding a settled playing XI and batting lineup. But against RCB, their XI had a much better balance to it than in the previous four games. Rohit’s batting position changed once again, as he went back to open the innings, after batting at No. 4 against Sunrisers. It is an inkling that MI still have not come to grips, completely, with what their best batting lineup is. However, the Mumbai stylist played to potential and afforded the Indians complete control over the chase, thanks to his ability to consistently find the boundaries. So, one of the satisfactory aspects of victory over RCB would be Rohit, who scored 62 off 44, getting back amongst the runs and playing a major hand in MI’s six-wicket win.
Rohit’s dismissal in the 13th over, which saw him clobber Iqbal Abdullah for a four and a six, would have been seen as a chance for a victory by the visitors. MI still had to get 62 from the final seven overs and there were question marks over their batting lineup. When they chased down 188 against KKR, Rohit was unbeaten at the crease and his presence in the middle made the task a lot easier for MI. However, he left his side in a precarious situation with seven overs to go on Wednesday.
The MI middle order did not panic, though. Kieron Pollard and Jos Buttler delivered some lusty blows during their knocks of 39* (19) and 28 (14) respectively. As you can see, they scored their runs at more than two runs per ball. The West Indian had struggled for runs in the first three games and did not feature against the Sunrisers. So, it was a very important knock for him and MI would be glad that one of their key players came good in quite testing circumstances. Buttler too, barring his game-changing innings of 41 (22) against KKR, has found the going tough. Against RCB, though, he was able to show his true colours with clean strikes off Abdullah, visitors’ only spinner on the night.
Prior to Pollard and Buttler’s arrivals, Ambati Rayudu followed up his 54 (49) against SRH with yet another fluent knock of 31 (23), which laid a solid foundation for the big hitters to make the most of. He was involved in an indispensable partnership – 76 (55) – with Rohit as well, after Parthiv Patel fell cheaply at the top of the order.
Therefore, from the batting point of view, MI can take plenty of positives from their win over RCB. Four of the top six made substantial runs and were integral to MI chasing down 171. The equation could well have been tougher had even one of them failed to contribute.
On the bowling front, Tim Southee continued from where he left off against the Sunrisers, posing plenty of problems with his out-swingers for Lokesh Rahul and Kohli. He conceded only 25 runs in his four overs, a spell which allowed MI to build pressure on the RCB batsmen. K Pandya impressed with the ball this time, picking up the Kohli-de Villiers duo in the space of just five balls. He too was economical and not easy to score off. Barring Mitchell McClenaghan, who had a torrid day, the rest of the MI bowlers fared well and deserve appreciation for restricting Royal Challengers to just 170.
It was an important victory for MI, whose batsmen showed improvement from the previous two outings and were instrumental in their side’s win. Another important takeaway from MI’s win over RCB is the balance that playing XI had, with Pollard coming back into the side in place of Martin Guptill. The immediate task for the defending IPL champions is to register back-to-back wins by beating Delhi Daredevils (DD), who they play at the Feroz Shah Kotla on Saturday.