It was a night of reputations. The defending champions Mumbai Indians embellished their reputation of being slow starters, as they crashed to a one-sided opening loss to the Rising Pune Supergiants at home. They seem to be making a habit of losing their opening game -- this the fourth season in a row they have done so. The Supergiants however, did no harm at all to their reputation as a team to look out for.
Here are the talking points from the opening game of IPL 2016.
Well begun is half done
When MI captain Rohit Sharma won the toss and elected to bat, he would not have believed it if you told him that the first batter to get into double figures would be his number five, and that Harbhajan Singh would top the scoring chart. Ishant Sharma and Mitchell Marsh’s four quick wickets showed how very few batters are comfortable when the pitch has something in it for the bowlers. It was refreshing to see a pitch like this at the Wankhede, a stadium that has seen a flash flood of runs over the last month.
Cricket, indeed all sport, is about assessing conditions and adapting to them. The bowlers adapted to the seam movement faster than the batters by changing their lengths. Ishant Sharma, when he was not bowling wides, bowled the kind of length that usually gets driven on the up, but on Saturday he asked more questions of the batters than a curious toddler. He consistently pushed the 140 kmph mark, and used the twin weapons of the crease and the angle very effectively. His approach and smooth run up suggested an improved fitness level, and he looked a very different bowler for it. It is amazing what a few months away from the grind of international cricket can do, especially for a fast bowler.
While Ishant got the ball to move off the pitch, Marsh got it to swing in the air. The delivery to get rid of the dangerous Jos Butler also underlined what MS Dhoni said at the presentation, that the Mumbai batters were going hard at the ball.
After Rajat Bhatia claimed the wicket of Kieron Pollard to leave Mumbai at 40 for five, it was half the job done for the Rising Pune Supergiants.
Dhoni is a master at using the slower bowlers to control the limited overs game. The stellar start his fast bowlers provided him allowed him to bring in his slow bowlers and call the shots from behind the stumps.
It was like he was settling onto his bean bag to watch his favourite television show.
The head start also gave Dhoni a buffer, which he used to introduce debutant wrist spinner M. Ashwin, ahead of his more accomplished namesake. M. Ashwin thrived on the confidence his captain showed in him, unveiling control and turn with his leg spinner. His googly turned even more, as is so often the case, and we will be seeing a lot more of him this season.
On a pitch that was slightly two paced, there is no bowler you would rather have in your side than Rajat Bhatia. Given the loss of wickets, the incoming batter would have wanted nothing more than the ball coming on to the bat. Bhatia gave them none of that, often bowling below the 90 kmph mark, which is slower than some of Harbhajan Singh’s deliveries. Even he got the ball to seam when he pitched it up, as Pollard discovered. His sleight of hand and counter-intuitive lack of pace meant that he bowled the lion’s share of dot balls, 17 among the 67 dots bowled, a massive figure in a 120 ball game.
Rahane back at the top
Ajinkya Rahane spent most of the World T20 warming the bench, only to be called upon in the semi-final, where he more than pulled his own weight. Unfortunately, it proved to be India’s last game in the tournament. Back at the top of the order in the IPL, the position from where he made his pitch for inclusion in the Indian team a few years ago, he batted like he had a point to prove to his skipper. Rahane has been criticised by Dhoni in the past for being slow off the blocks when the ball doesn’t come on to the bat, so seeing the team home on an atypical Wankhede wicket, must have been particularly satisfying.
“The ball was stopping a bit so it was important for me to take some time early on and finish the job,” he said, about his man of the match winning knock. His definition of taking time was wonderful to watch, as he notched up his fastest IPL half century, in just 32 balls. His 78 run opening stand with Faf du Plessis broke the back of the chase and snuffed out any chance of a fight back from the opposition. Aided by his intimate understanding of the Wankhede pitch, Rahane used the pace of the Mumbai Indian’s bowlers to counter the nature of the wicket.
While the Supergiants have problems, particularly the death bowling, they could not have made a better start to their campaign. Though it is still early days, the Mumbai Indians will hope that their quest for the trophy in this edition does follow the pattern of last season, where they lost five of their first six games, before turning things around.