The 10th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) is nearly two weeks old now and the points table currently highlights something that we are normally not used to — Mumbai Indians (MI) on top of the table in the initial stages of the tournament.
The two-time champions have been branded as traditional 'slow starters', the term which was thrown around once again when the Rohit Sharma-led side lost to Rising Pune Supergiant in their lung-opener. However, the progress that they have displayed since then has been immaculate, and they have made a solid statement with four consecutive victories, all of them coming while batting second at their home venue.
Opting to bat after winning the toss was something of a no-brainer for MI in the game against Gujarat Lions — having done the same in all the games that they have won so far. The only change in the home side was that of fit-again Lasith Malinga returning in place of Tim Southee in the playing eleven.
Pace spearhead Malinga was disappointing in his performance on Sunday, producing his worst figures ever across the eight editions that he has played in the league by conceding 51 runs from four overs in exchange for the prized wicket of Brendon McCullum.
Jasprit Bumrah, who is said to consider Malinga his idol, and whose action even resembles that of the Sri Lankan pacer, appeared to have modelled his performance in this match along the same lines by conceding 45 runs from four overs. The only difference being that of him going wicketless.
Mitchell McClenaghan (2/24) and Harbhajan Singh (1/22) bowled sharp spells that somewhat made up for the waywardness of Malinga and Bumrah, and ensured that the Lions did not run away with a 200-plus total — which looked possible the way McCullum and Karthik were hitting, and would have been very likely had Jason Roy been sent earlier.
For veteran off-spinner Harbhajan, the highlight of the day was getting rid of opposition captain Suresh Raina for the fifth time in the tournament's history. McClenaghan, on the other hand, put up yet another refreshing performance with the ball for the second consecutive match after going for big runs in the first two games of the tournament.
Striking in the very first over of the innings by removing Dwayne Smith for a duck, McClenaghan once again kept the batsmen guessing with his variations throughout the game, and reaped the rewards for it by the time the innings was over.
The 177-run target might not have been a very daunting one at a cursory glance, especially keeping the dew factor later in the innings in mind. The stiffness of the target did climb somewhat after the abrupt dismissal of opener Parthiv Patel for a duck in the second ball of the innings.
Nitish Rana, who has been something of a revelation for Mumbai in the season so far, and could very well turn out to be the find of the tournament for the franchise this season, earned a promotion by walking out to bat at No 3. Just when he was beginning to shift gears for the hosts, he nearly offered his wicket to Basil Thampi in just the second over of the innings.
The scorecard should have read an alarming 11/2 for the hosts, with their most consistent batsman back in the hut. Instead, Jason Roy, who got the nod into the team after Aaron Finch missed out due to his kit bag not arriving, spilled a regulation chance at midwicket, after the ball popped out of his hands.
Rana, who was batting on 9 at the time of the drop, went on to add another 44 to the Mumbai score, establishing a rebuilding effort with Jos Buttler as the two added 85 runs for the second wicket. The drop indeed helped Rana establish the foundations for Mumbai's fourth consecutive successful chase, though it was captain Rohit who remained at the crease right till the end, and signalled his return to form with some clean hitting that took him to 40 off 29 balls.
The positives so far in the tournament have far outweighed the negatives for Mumbai, and Rohit's resurgence with the bat in their latest outing is one among many. The captain had been a key figure with the bat for the side in their victorious campaign two years ago, and his sheer ability to obliterate opposition bowling attacks, especially at the Eden Gardens, is a crucial aspect of the Mumbai Indians batting lineup.
There are of course, tougher tests lined up ahead for Mumbai once they hit the road. Their home venue of Wankhede has always been considered their fortress, and it is now up to them to ride on the momentum gained in the first five games. A couple of more consistent away performances by the team, and we could very well be staring at the prospect of MI topping the table.