Just when you thought Mumbai Indians were beginning to get a grip on the tournament, and were about to bring their campaign back to life, another blow has been dealt to the defending Indian Premier League (IPL) champions.
This time, the punch comes from Delhi Daredevils, who have been making rapid strides since being demolished by Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in their opening game of the tournament. In this case, however, Mumbai failed to chase down what was a par score on a dry Delhi surface. And, unlike their earlier defeats in the tournament, Mumbai failed to complete a victory despite being in control for most of the match.
With four defeats already in the six games that they have played so far, Mumbai seem to be dragging themselves into another do-or-die situation. Unless they follow the same script as their last two IPL campaigns, they could very well kiss their fantasies of becoming the first side to lift the trophy for a third time goodbye.
Rohit Sharma won the toss for the fourth time in six games, and opted to field, hoping that lady luck would again be with the chasing side as she has done for the most part in IPL 9 so far. There was a pattern in both innings that defined Mumbai's performance. While they got off to a good start and controlled the first half, they let go of the momentum in the second period, either due to a solid partnership or some wily bowling.
For starters, the early removal of the dangerous Quinton de Kock was a massive confidence booster. De Kock, whose savage 108 not out in the previous game against RCB could very well rank among the best knocks of the IPL, played a couple of dream strokes at the start of the innings, before mishitting a Mitchell McClenaghan delivery to be dismissed for 9.
Shreyas Iyer tried to build some momentum with Sanju Samson for the second-wicket stand, but miscued a slog, before Karun Nair departed cheaply barely an over later. At 54 for three, Mumbai had the momentum firmly in their grasp and were looking to restrict Delhi to a total within 120. That was until Samson decided to take charge of the innings, and along with JP Duminy, resurrected the Daredevils, guiding them past 160 with a brilliant 50 that later got him the man-of-the-match.
Mumbai had previously chased down targets assigned to them quite meticulously, and Rohit's resurgence with the bat and the smooth functioning of the middle-order trio of Jos Buttler, Kieron Pollard and Krunal Pandya gave them enough hope.
Following Parthiv Patel's early run-out for just one — which only further reinforces the opinion that Mumbai should have Martin Guptill open with Rohit — the MI skipper put his side in control along with Ambati Rayudu. Rayudu's wicket meant yet another change in the batting order, and Krunal Pandya came in at No 4 instead of the usual choice of Buttler. However, the move turned out to be both novel and effective, as Krunal delivered exactly what was expected of him: Get the required run-rate down by getting quick runs.
With the latest find of the tournament hammering the ball to all parts of the ground during his quickfire 36 off 17 balls, and Rohit himself getting boundaries at regular intervals, Mumbai looked set to bag their second win on the trot. And despite Krunal's unfortunate run-out after an outstanding throw by Zaheer to the non-striker's end, the momentum was still with the visitors.
That was until the leg-spin duo of Amit Mishra and Imran Tahir (drafted in place of Carlos Brathwaite) tightened the screws in the middle overs. Pressure levels on Rohit and Co increased with every dot ball, as the pair gave no opportunity for the batsmen to swing the bat freely. Mishra, who got rid of Rayudu with a ripper of a googly earlier in the innings, launched a barrage of them during his second spell, as did Tahir.
Pollard and Buttler were vital to MI's wins over KKR and RCB. While Buttler shone with the bat against Kolkata with a 22-ball 41, he contributed with some quick runs against Bangalore as well before Pollard let the beast out, remaining unbeaten on 40 off just 19.
In this game, their susceptibility to quality spin was once again exposed as they failed to tackle the wrong 'uns that were utilised quite cleverly by the Delhi spinners. Mishra captured his second victim with a googly in Buttler, while Pollard's brute self from the successful chase in the previous game seemed to have abandoned him on Saturday.
Mumbai's required run-rate resultantly shot up in the next four overs, almost doubling between overs 13 and 17, during which the two spinners completed their quota of overs.
While Morris and Zaheer still had a crucial task to execute with Rohit and Pollard at the crease, Pandya's dismissal and a few tight overs that ensued after this turned out to be the turning point of the match.
Thanks to a brilliant penultimate over by Zaheer, in which he fired his yorkers with pinpoint accuracy claiming Pollard's wicket, Morris' final over duties were also eased. The South African medium-pacer was aided by Rohit's mid-pitch crash with Hardik Pandya — who seemed to be on a collision course that day, having bumped into Buttler while fielding earlier.
The two sides could have just shook hands right after Rohit's dismissal, as Harbhajan Singh and Tim Southee barely stood a chance thereafter. In the end though, it was a well-deserved victory for Delhi and they have every right to be sitting in second position, behind their opening-match tormentors KKR.
One has to feel for Rohit, who produced yet another captain's knock and looked to hit the winning runs for his team. Much like Dhoni in RPS' loss to RCB, the Mumbai captain went down fighting in the end, and with his departure sank the fortunes of his ship.
Given the fact that they have shown brief glimpses of consistency and domination that made them two-time champions, no fan or expert could rule them out of the league. All we can do till then is to hope Rohit continues to be in the kind of form that he is right now, and for MI to capitalise on the momentum gained in a better manner, and convert them into victories.