A rude wake-up call can be a necessary evil when it comes to one’s progress towards attaining a goal. In Mumbai Indians’s case, recording their second loss to the same opposition for their winning run to come to an end might throw up a few points for them to introspect ahead of their next challenge. Especially if they are to live up to their billing of that of a top dog that is considered a favourite for making it to the playoffs, if not laying their hands on the silverware.
After a run in the 10th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) that one can equate to dominance, with six wins on the trot — a couple of which were pulled off from near-impossible situations — life came to a full circle when the Rohit Sharma-led side recorded a narrow loss to the Rising Pune Supergiant (RPS), the very team responsible for handing them a disappointing start in the tournament in the first place.
The two sides went into this game on the back of a very contrasting forms. While MI seemed to be on a rampage of sorts by winning every single game after the seven-wicket loss in the lung-opener in Pune, RPS seemed to have lost a bit of the momentum, especially in their losses top Delhi Daredevils (by a whopping 97 runs) and to Gujarat Lions (the current bottom-rankers). However, in Pune’s case, wins over Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) and Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) had done the confidence of the Steve Smith-led side a world of good.
The toss has become crucial to the point where winning it is equated to battle being half won. When the Mumbai Indians skipper won the toss, and unsurprisingly elected to field that has been something of a chasing team’s dream, it seemed as if Mumbai already held the aces by taking advantage of the dew factor while batting in the second innings.
Those hopes took a bit of a beating early on when Ajinkya Rahane unleashed a volley of strokes that would have made Indian batting legend and the birthday boy Sachin Tendulkar, watching the game from the sidelines, proud. There was little answer that the two Mitchells of pace in the Mumbai atack —Johnson and McClenaghan — had in reply to the exquisite strokeplay that he offered, which complemented the confidence that his opening partner Rahul Tripathi exuded in his stay at the crease.
The two put on an opening stand worth 74 before Rahane was done in by a certain Karn Sharma, who happened to be playing his first game for the franchise. He took quite the beating before getting the breakthrough that halted what was starting to shape itself into a runaway partnership. Coming in place of the injured Krunal Pandya in this game, Karn did not quite get off to the best of starts, and probably suffered from a nerve attack in his second over when he was hit for a six and a four.
He did however, comeback nicely by deceiving Rahane with a top-spinner that the latter failed to pick while going for a cut, getting cramped for room and top-edging it back to the bowler. That wasn’t his only moment of glory as he got rid of Tripathi five runs short of the latter’s 50, and would have walked away with the wicket of the RPS captain had it not been for Harbhajan Singh spilling the chance at deep midwicket.
While Karn walked away with a mixed outing, it turned out to be a disappointing day in office for Mitchell McClenaghan, who was the match-winner for the side in their 14-run win over the Delhi Daredevils at the same venue, and somehow looked lacklustre this evening. The saving grace for the side was Harbhajan Singh, who engineered his experience to not only restrict the run-flow in the middle-overs, but make up for his dropped catch of Karn’s bowling by reducing his pace in a half-tracker to Smith that rattled the latter’s off-stump, giving the veteran offie his 200th T20 wicket.
Then there was the ever-reliable Jasprit Bumrah, whose dismissals of MS Dhoni and Manoj Tiwary in the slog overs was largely responsible for restricting Pune to 160-odd when they looked set for something bigger after the start they got off to.
However, restricting Pune to 160 did not necessarily translate into a cakewalk of a chase for Mumbai, with the pitch being slower that usual on Monday evening, and the ball stopping on the batsmen which caught the latter off-guard. While the Mumbai opening pair of Parthiv Patel and Jos Buttler showed some promise early in their partnership, the latter was done in by the brilliance of the man of the occasion — Ben Stokes. While the England all-rounder couldn’t quite shine with the bat in the Pune innings, he more than proved his worth with a wicket-maiden over that slammed the brakes on Mumbai’s progress.
Even though most of the Mumbai batsmen disappointed on the occasion, whether it was the departure of in-form batsman and their leading run-scorer, Nitish Rana, that would have hurt them the most. Rana was dismissed for a meagre 3, while Parthiv got his stumps shattered after expecting a little more turn from Washington Sundar than what he eventually dished out in the wicket delivery.
However, not everything was sour for Mumbai that evening, and skipper Rohit Sharma breathing his batting form back to life with his first half-century of the ongoing tournament is a sign of the progress that was expected of him. While he survived a run-out on 22 after some terrible communication with Kieron Pollard, his innings exhibited the defiance that had been missing in his performances for so long. His weakness against leg-spin had been discovered in the matches leading to this, and his Pune counterpart Smith held Imran Tahir back for Rohit. However, the Mumbai captain tore him apart with a flurry of fours and sixes, exhibiting some clean hitting in all the loose deliveries that he got.
Had it not been for a brilliant penultimate over by death overs-specialist Stokes, as well as a contentious wide called in the last over (with Rohit getting fined his time for questioning the umpire’s decision), Rohit would have led Mumbai home in the company of Hardik Pandya.
However, Pune were the better team on the occasion, and all that Mumbai can do for now is to look back at both the positives and negatives from this match. Losing by a margin as narrow as three runs isn’t exactly one that would bog a team as illustrious as MI down, and it is time for them to spring back from this defeat harder than ever in the coming games.