"I think 160 was below par to be honest, having seen the scores chased here. Probably the worst batting performance of this season for us," Mumbai Indians' (MI) captain Rohit Sharma said after his team suffered a 20-run loss to Rising Pune Supergiant (RPS) in Qualifier 1 in the 10th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) at the Wankhede Stadium.
If you go by the numbers this season, and in particular the last game at the Wankhede stadium where 453 runs were scored in total, 160 is certainly a par score at this venue. But the way the centre pitch at the Wankhede played on Tuesday evening, it took everyone by surprise, even the hosts who have made it a bit of a fortress in the IPL.
The discomfort which the Mumbai batsmen felt trying to chase 163 set by the Pune side, in addition to the struggles which their RPS counterparts endured against MI's slower bowlers, it was quite evident that the wicket was pretty slow, and certainly not the one where one could score runs freely.
Rohit's comments suggested the hosts perhaps struggled to read the conditions properly, and certainly failed to apply themselves to the wicket that was quite uncharacteristic to the venue. "Shot selection is very important. You need to understand the situation and the conditions and respect them. You've to pick the gaps and take it to the end and we didn't do that. It's not the end of the world, we still have one more shot in Bangalore," Rohit added.
The MI captain's assessment was spot on. Mumbai needed to take a leaf out of the Pune innings and stay in the game for as long as possible. But the hosts' batsmen got themselves into trouble, playing one rash shot after another.
The hosts were slightly unlucky with the first two dismissals. Lendl Simmons was unfortunate to be run out after Shardul Thakur got fingertips to a straight drive from Parthiv Patel before the balls crashed into the stumps at the non-striker's end. Captain Rohit was on the wrong side of an umpiring decision, as he was given out lbw, despite getting a clear inside edge, before the ball hit his pads.
Mumbai though had plenty of batting in their locker after the early blows, but never really showed the necessary craft to stitch together partnerships. Ambati Rayudu, Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya were victims of some really poor shot selection, while Krunal Pandya and Patel were done by slower deliveries at a time when the need for quick runs was paramount.
The Pune bowlers then had too much class for the Mumbai tail to make something happen at that stage.
RPS, despite struggling to score the runs at a fast rate, lost just three wickets till the last ball. They cashed in over the last two overs, where they scored 41 runs to completely change the complexion of the match. Mumbai needed a similar number of runs in their last two overs, but didn't have enough wickets in hand to launch a late onslaught.
Pune had two crucial partnerships worth 80 and 73 for the third and fourth wicket, something the Mumbai batsmen failed to achieve. The visitors slowly built their innings and increased their scoring rate as the innings progressed. In the powerplay, Pune scored at a rate of just 5.50. that increased to 7.89 from overs 7-15, and rose to 11.60 in the last five overs. Ajinkya Rahane, Manoj Tiwary and MS Dhoni showed their class on a wicket that wasn't easy to score on and didn't aim for too big a score.
That approach helped reach a very formidable total of 162. The 19th and 20th over of their batting innings, when Dhoni and Tiwary were able to hit big shots that no other batsmen from either side managed to do, was the turning point of the match. Both the batsmen smartly picked the bowlers to attack and executed their plan to perfection.
Pune played out the Mumbai spinners who were difficult to get away and ensured they kept wickets intact for a late surge. Mitchell McClenaghan, a bowler known for picking up wickets with the new ball, came into bowl the 19th over and provided the Pune batsmen with just the right pace to time their shots. In addition, the Kiwi bowler was all over the place with his length allowing Dhoni to punish him.
That over cost Mumbai 26 runs, and made them look like fools as Lasith Malinga, despite going for just 14 runs in his first three overs, didn't finish his quota of overs. It was a strategic blunder from Rohit Sharma to opt for McClenaghan over the death-overs specialist in Malinga, especially after the New Zealand pacer had done his job he was meant to do by picking up an wicket in his first over.
However, that wasn't the only error Mumbai Indians committed on the evening. Dropping the experienced Harbhajan Singh for Karn Sharma was one of them. The Turbanator has been their most successful bowler in the middle overs (7-15) this IPL, picking up seven wickets in that time of the innings. On Tuesday, in his absence, Mumbai picked up just one wicket in the middle overs, allowing Pune to go all out in the final overs of the innings.
162 was a good total to defend for a Pune bowling attack in form, but the Mumbai batsmen made it easier by playing irresponsible shots and showing a total lack of application on a slightly different wicket than what we are used to seeing at the Wankhede.
Fortunately for Mumbai Indians, they still have one more shot at reaching the final. The 2015 winners though will have to put up a much improved performance on a Bengaluru wicket that's played pretty similar to the one at Wankhede on Tuesday evening. Mumbai would back themselves to bring their A game out in the Qualifier 2 after a few hiccups recently, but a similar erroneous performance in that do-or-die encounter, could spell the end of a campaign that promised so much for the Mumbai Indians.