If the opening ceremony of the Indian Premier League (IPL) turned out to be a dud, the opening fixture between Mumbai Indians (MI) and the Rising Pune Supergiants (RPS) was hardly better.
The former got thrashed by nine wickets in front of their home crowd to start off their campaign in a familiar manner, and there are a plenty of questions to be answered by captain Rohit Sharma and the team management before the side faces Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in the latter’s backyard four days from now.
While briefing the media at an event a couple of days before the start of the tournament, Rohit had stressed on a couple of factors for his team’s defense of the title — that he would like to open the innings for his side, and that his team would aim to get off to a winning start and carry the momentum throughout the league stage, in complete contrast to the manner in which the side qualified for the playoffs in the last two editions.
As Ajinkya Rahane hit the winning six off Hardik Pandya in the 15th over, with the ball sailing over the fine third man boundary, Rohit was yet to answer on those two fronts. As far as the question over what exactly went wrong for the Mumbai Indians is concerned, it boils down over a bad decision and some woeful batting.
To start with, the Wankhede pitch was not exactly what it had been during the World T20 — where records were broken at will on a flat deck that barely had any juice for the bowlers.
On Saturday night, there was a tinge of grass on the track, and it offered swing and seam movement to the likes of Mitchell Marsh (2 for 21), Ishant Sharma (2 for 30) and RP Singh (1 for 30). Later in the innings, the pitch offered decent grip to Rajat Bhatia, who managed to fox the batsmen with an array of cutters and slower deliveries and conceded just 10 runs off his four overs.
While Pune batsmen suffered a couple of hiccups along their way, the pitch had toned down and was more conducive for the batsmen in the second innings, allowing Rahane and Faf du Plessis to attack the opposition bowlers soon after settling in.
While the Wankhede pitch might have been a little more bowling-friendly on the day, it still remained true to its nature of being a chasing track. It was a surprising decision that Rohit opted to bat first on a venue at which nine of the 11 T20 matches in 2016 were won by the chasing team. Also, the dew had played an important role in the World T20s. This is where Rohit erred first up and then their inability to read the pitch cost them dearly.
Coming to the batting, the lack of foot movement combined with some disastrous choice of shots ensured that they dug their own graves even before a single ball had been bowled in the second innings. Rohit as well as Lendl Simmons, who had registered a match-winning knock on this ground only a few days ago in World T20 semis, hit a boundary each before being sent back to the hut by Ishant Sharma, with the latter falling prey to a beautiful inswinger.
The highly-rated Jos Buttler’s IPL essay began on a disappointing note with a two-ball duck, while Pandya was dismissed simply due to poor shot selection. Even Kieron Pollard, who has single-handedly destroyed many an attack in the past, fell victim to poor footwork as he was trapped lbw by Bhatia, caught in the crease.
Had it not been for Harbhajan Singh’s valiant 30-ball 45, which included seven fours and a six, Mumbai probably would have struggled to even reach 100. He had some support from Ambati Rayudu (22) and R Vinay Kumar (12), the only other batsmen to have reached double-figures in the innings. The knock was reminiscent of his display of bravery against Kings XI Punjab at the same venue last year, where he smashed 64 off just 24 deliveries in a freakish innings, although much like this game, it went in vain.
It was the early wicket of Rohit that stifled Mumbai’s run-flow, and credit must go to RPS’ bowlers for maintaining the pressure thereafter, which caused the home side’s top-order to ultimately implode.
After getting reduced to 68 for the loss of seven wickets following Rayudu’s dismissal, there was little hope left for the side to make a comeback.
Pune, in complete contrast, batted cautiously for the first four overs to see off any pressure whatsoever, before launching an all-out assault on the Malinga-less attack that fell flat to some exceptional batting from Rahane and Faf du Plessis.
If the Mumbai Indians batsmen had it tough on home turf, things are certainly going to get worse when they are up against KKR on the Eden Gardens track, which has been a comparatively difficult track to bat on. The Eden surface supports spinners, and KKR have a formidable arsenal of spin in the likes of Sunil Narine, Brad Hogg, Piyush Chawla, Shakib Al Hasan, Kuldeep Yadav to name a few. A poor start has become some sort of a norm for Mumbai and the defeat against Pune was an early wake-up call. Another uphill task awaits them and Rohit and Co. will need to up the ante big time at the Eden Gardens come Wednesday.