IPL 9 has served a number of bland dishes so far, with the first eight matches of the tournament mostly turning out to be one-sided contests. The fans, it appeared, were already getting bored of the excessive cricket in the season.
However, the clash between Mumbai Indians and Gujarat Lions at the Wankhede Stadium turned out to be a breath of fresh air -- for the fans in particular, and for cricket in general -- as the two sides engaged in a match that went down to the last ball after several twists and turns.
It was a game that threatened to go either way until Aaron Finch hit the winning boundary over midwicket and raised his bat and helmet in jubilation, like a warrior after vanquishing the enemy after battle. In the end, Gujarat walked away with the gold as they won their third game in as many matches, while Mumbai have started off in disappointing, albeit familiar manner. Fans of the defending champions however, will look back at their track record in the last two editions of the league for hope.
Gujarat have been on a roll since defeating Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) in their opening encounter. The tournament is still in its nascent stages, but they are already shaping up to be the team to beat. Barring another blip from T20 giant and recently-retired Black Caps skipper Brendon McCullum, the team seems to be heading in a positive direction at the moment.
Mumbai, on the other hand, seemed to have made a tremendous comeback into the tournament, when they handed fellow two-time league champions Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) a six-wicket beating at the latter’s backyard of Eden Gardens, but the match against the Lions have brought back their familiar problems in focus.
Despite the defeat, there were a few positives for the defending champions to take note of, such as the meteoric rise of Mitchell McClenaghan in the side. Here are the three talking points of Mumbai Indians' loss to Gujarat Lions.
Familiar batting woes
Perhaps half the battle was lost when Mumbai were reduced to 88 for six in the 16th over. The team appeared to be headed in the same direction as that in the tournament opening loss against the MS Dhoni-led Rising Pune Supergiants (RPS).
Captain Rohit, who anchored Mumbai’s successful chase against KKR, smacked a luscious cover drive at the start of the second over, before sending the ball straight to Shadab Jakati’s hands at square-leg. Buttler, another destroyer of the Kolkata attack in the previous game, was starting to look good with three boundaries before getting stumped by Jakati. Kieron Pollard continued his terrible form with the bat as he mishit a delivery in which he was looking to clear the straight boundary, getting caught by fellow Trinidadian Dwayne Bravo instead. Wicketkeeper-batsman Parthiv Patel kept fighting a lone battle as the Mumbai top and middle-order crumbled around him.
While the conditions did play its part, as batsmen found it easier to score in the later stages of the match, the sheer collapse sapped most of the spirit out of Mumbai’s fight, and the chase would have been a cakewalk had it not been for the little cameo from Tim Southee and Krunal Pandya.
While the batsmen will look forward to feasting on a struggling Hyderabad attack in their next game on Monday, they will have to click as a unit, even if batting first on their home venue, to set sights on the playoffs.
Krunal Pandya - the latest go-to guy
When Rohit announced the sole change in the Mumbai playing XI at the toss on Saturday evening — that of Krunal Pandya making his IPL debut in place of Jagadeesha Suchith — a few were taken aback by the decision to field a relatively unknown entity in place of Martin Guptill, whose entry into the squad in place of the now-withdrawn Lendl Simmons has become a thrilling prospect for the team as well as the fans.
However, Pandya’s inclusion in the team turned out to be a boon for the side after the latter exceeded expectations both with bat and ball to played some, if not a major, role in bringing Mumbai back into the contest on a few occasions. His cameo of 20 not out, along with Southee’s 55, helped add 55 runs to Mumbai’s total in the last four overs, and his economical spell of 1 for 20 from four overs kept the pressure on the Gujarat middle-order while Mitchell McClenaghan kept taking wickets at the other end.
Apart from becoming the first sibling pair in IPL history to play for the same team along with younger brother Hardik, Krunal might go on to become an important cog in the wheel that aims to become the first side in the tournament’s history to successfully defend the title since CSK.
Mitchell McClenaghan, the new hitman in town
While the Mumbai Indians camp eagerly awaits the return of veteran pacer Lasith Malinga, his absence might not have pinched the side as much following Mitchell McClenaghan’s brilliance with the ball in the last couple of games.
If McClenaghan proved that he is no mug with the bat with the three giant sixes against Kolkata, then he certainly pitched himself as someone who is now ready to take over the mantle of leading the Mumbai attack in the league.
While Mumbai kept pecking at the Gujarat batting line-up every now and then, they did not inflict enough damage to consider themselves to be in a position to win the game... Until McClenaghan’s second spell of the game (the 16th and 18th overs to be precise) in which he proved just how precious a gem he is in this format.
The burst saw him take three quick wickets, with the scorecard suddenly reading 131 for seven, the fans at the Wankhede seemed to have found their voice again. McClenaghan walked back with superb figures of 4 for 21 in four overs. Unfortunately for him, lady luck decided to side with certain individual from across the Tasman sea.