Serial killers rarely leave fingerprints at crime scenes they touch. But they do leave something even more distinctive: their modus operandi. In every murder they commit, they use the exact same pattern in going about their morbid and deluded work. That’s how crime fighting agencies eventually catch them, but for them, patterns are everything. In their own convoluted way, they are consistent in everything they do.
Patterns seem to be everything for the Rising Pune Supergiants as well. In three of their four games in which they have been the victim, they have batted first and scored underwhelming totals despite promising starts. In two of those three games, they conceded too many runs in the first six overs, and effectively lost the game there.
Even in victory, a clear pattern has made itself visible, like a serial killer’s signature. Their win against the Sunrisers Hyderabad was uncannily similar to their opening win against the defending champions, the Mumbai Indians. They bowled first, the seamers wreaked havoc among the opponent’s ranks, then leaked a few too many at the death, before the batters wrapped up a comfortable win.
While their previous match against Royal Challengers Bangalore was an exhibition in how everything could go wrong on a particular day, the win on Tuesday at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium was a fine example of the opposite. First, MS Dhoni won a worryingly important toss, and thankfully bowled first this time. As if on cue, the rains delayed the start of the match by an hour, giving Dhoni’s seam attack the perfect conditions to extract movement in the air. Ashok Dinda, who almost went unsold in the auction, was given his first game in the friendliest conditions, and he made the most of it. Although the delivery he bowled to dismiss the in-form David Warner was probably his worst, he set the tone for the innings with the early wicket.
Mitchell Marsh added his own music, when he pitched the ball up and got it to swing. His reward was the well deserved wicket of Eoin Morgan, and the less deserved wicket of Moises Henriques. Dhoni’s catch of Henriques capped a superb fielding effort by the Pune team, which saw them save at least 10 runs in the first six overs. It led to the Sunrisers being restricted to 27 for three in the powerplay, among the lowest in this year’s IPL.
The second line of defence proved to be the second line of attack, as R Ashwin added another to the solitary wicket he had taken this year with his first ball. In three of the six games so far, Dhoni has been forced to use him in the powerplay after the seamers have gone for runs. While bowling in the powerplay is nothing new for Ashwin, he usually is used as an attacking option. But in the IPL, his role in the powerplay has been overwhelmingly defensive. Tuesday’s good start by the seamers allowed Ashwin to bowl his four overs on the trot and dictate terms, which he duly did.
While the seamers impressed at the start, the death bowling continues to be a worry for the RPS. Despite sending five of the top six back to the hut, and with Shikhar Dhawan batting sluggishly, the RPS conceded 40 runs in the last four overs. If this side is to harbour any ambitions of making the Playoffs, this is a limp that needs to be fixed ASAP.
The loss of Kevin Pietersen to injury might just turn out to be a boon for the Supergiants. It means that Dhoni might be forced to bat at number four, a position he claimed in this game, but generally seems to shun. Considering the trouble the RPS have had with applying the finishing touches to good starts, this may be just what they need.
Winning patterns are good for teams. It gives them templates they can rely on again and again to repeat their successes. But both the Supergiants’ wins have been precipitated by favourable conditions and fortunate tosses. Had Dhoni lost the toss, and with Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Ashish Nehra and Mustafizur Rahman to contend with, the shoe could easily have been on the other foot. Rising Pune Supergiants need to move beyond the patterns they are creating, in victory and defeat, lest the same patterns, like for serial killers, prove their undoing.