Cricket in general, and the Indian Premier League (IPL) in particular, is all about the unexpected. A commentator during the match between Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) and Mumbai Indians (MI) in Bengaluru described cricket as generally being more unpredictable than other sports. While the notion might be a debatable one, the quality of the game played last evening does lend it some credibility to a certain extent.
The contest between two heavyweight franchises in the first match of the Friday double-header is one for the ages, and should feature among the greatest clashes in the league's history, should one compile a list sometime in the coming years.
Despite the match having its share of ups and downs, it was Bangalore's match to lose, especially after a scintillating hat-trick by West Indian leggie Samuel Badree — playing his first game for the franchise — put them on the winning path. While the RCB camp will be busy pondering over the drawbacks in their performance that has led them to losing three out of the four games that they have played so far, MI will have breathed a sigh of relief once again after brushing past the shoulders of defeat.
The bowling unit once again lived up to its potential by restricting the hosts to a score that would not have looked daunting on paper. The bowling unit indeed has made the difference in the three games that Mumbai have won on the trot, especially in the previous game against Sunrisers Hyderabad(SRH) in which they did a superb job to restrict the explosive batting order to a sub-par 158.
Despite missing Lasith Malinga and his volley of yorkers in all stages of the innings, the Mumbai attack restricted Bangalore to 142. While the excessive slowness of the pitch, combined with variable bounce did play its part, it were the timely dismissals of Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Kedar Jadhav in quick succession in the middle overs that truly stunted RCB's progress. Getting off to the start that they did, with Kohli hammering a comeback half-century, they would have fancied 170 on the board. Full credit to the Mumbai death bowlers however, for not conceding a single boundary in the last five overs, with Mitchell McClenaghan finally bowling a decent spell after a couple of horror outings earlier, finishing the pick of the MI bowlers (2/20 from four overs).
For all the reputation that Badree enjoys as a game-changer in this format, especially in the initial overs of the innings, Mumbai would have never imagined getting reduced to a laughable 7/4 in the third over of the innings, thanks to a couple of wrong 'uns and a McClenaghan brain-fade with the bat that resulted in the first of the two hat-tricks of the day (the other being Andrew Tye in the Gujarat Lions-Rising Pune Supergiant game).
The devastating spell made Mumbai switch their priorities faster than the ball travelling to the stands after getting whacked by Chris Lynn. From dreaming about recording their third win on the trot, even the prospect of saving some face suddenly looked like a tedious task. Add the in-form Nitish Rana's dismissal to that, with the southpaw going for a cut off Badree's bowling to give the latter his fourth wicket off the last ball of his spell. At 33/5, victory seemed like a distant prospect for Mumbai, although their reputation of being 'slow starters' would have reassured their fans of better performances to come.
If there is an entity that truly deserves the plaudits for the sensational win that the visiting team pulled off in front of a capacity Chinnaswamy crowd, it has to be their middle-order, with a special mention of Kieron Pollard. Whether the burly Trinidadian proved a point to Sanjay Manjrekar or not, after their Twitter battle, Pollard has won hearts back with a performance that surely goes down as one of his finest, an innings that the likes of Ravi Shastri went on to describe as 'intelligent'.
Then of course, the Pandya brothers, and their latest performance only adds to their indispensibility towards MI. While it was Hardik that got Mumbai the first breakthrough during the RCB innings, elder sibling Krunal proved the perfect foil for Pollard by rotating the strike for the most part when Mumbai was still in its vulnerable stages, before going for the kill towards the end. The winning six was once again reserved for Hardik, hitting the penultimate ball of the penultimate over towards long-on.
The Mumbai Indians perhaps can raise a toast or two over their position at the top of the points table for now. However, if they are to continue to enjoy warm invitations to their owner's abode, the Antilia, in the coming days, there are a couple of wrinkles that they have to iron out. The top order is once place to begin with. After all, the middle order can wriggle you out of sticky situations in a few matches, but cannot guide a team all the way through solely by itself.