As a closed sports League, with no promotion and relegation, the Indian Premier League (IPL) is unlike the English football league it was so imaginatively named after. Mumbai Indians (MI) aren’t trying to run Delhi Capitals (DC) out of business, if they do, who will they play? The League is financially structured so that everyone wins, and to a degree, it is a model that relies on a certain level of collusion.
There was an eyebrow-raising level of that in the game between Mumbai Indians and Delhi Capitals on Thursday, 18 April, as Mumbai flattened the home side by 40 runs. With considerable help from the home team, MI put on a masterclass in how one should play on a slow pitch.
Win the toss, bat first
It was a decision that raised eyebrows galore in yet another a season of successful chases. Both teams seemed to have made very different assessments of the pitch, judging by their starting XIs. DC played four fast bowlers, and left out their star overseas leg-spinner, Sandeep Lamichhane. Mumbai played three spinners, with Jayant Yadav coming in.
But one ball into the innings, you knew which team had made the right call: The first ball of the match, an Ishant Sharma length delivery, died on the way to the ‘keeper, a sign of the slowness of the pitch. It also highlighted why this was such a good toss to win, even though DC captain Shreyas Iyer said he would have chased. Mumbai ended up being only the second team to choose to bat first this season and still end up on the winning side.
Attack before it rips and grips
MI quickly realised that they would have to try and score as many runs as possible while the ball was hard and new and the fast bowlers were operating. Amidst deliveries that barely bounced, Rohit Sharma and Quinton de Kock threw their bats around, and raced to a score of 57 for no loss in the Powerplay. Here again they had help from DC; both players prefer facing pace, and according to CricViz, spinners cost 7.01 runs per over at the Kotla this season, as opposed to pace, which costs 8.19. But spin only appeared in the seventh over.
Southpaw vs spin
When Amit Mishra took a wicket with his first ball, and Axar Patel followed with one more in the next over, it seemed to portend that the spinners would run amok on this track. But both DC spinners took the ball away from the right-hander, and so it was very useful that the southpaw de Kock was at the crease till the halfway mark. When he was dismissed, MI deliberately sent in Krunal Pandya ahead of their two in-form hitters, his younger brother Hardik and Kieron Pollard. Krunal remained unbeaten and ensured that there was a left-hander until the very last over, which is perhaps why Shreyas chose to hold back one over from Mishra, eventually allowing it to lapse.
Perfect for Pandya
More collusion helped, as the DC seamers seemed intent on not using the slowness of the track to their advantage. Where cutters dug into the pitch would have proved challenging to time, the DC fast bowlers backed their yorkers against Hardik, who sat back and waited for ones that just missed. (He was eventually dismissed, for 32 off 15, by a cutter dug into the pitch.)
Say it with Spin
MI didn’t make the mistakes the DC made; they started with spin from one end and used three overs of it in the Powerplay. CricViz points out this is against their usual trend; with the likes of Lasith Malinga, Jasprit Bumrah, Alzarri Joseph and a quality left-arm seamer in the squad, they usually bowl only 11 percent of spin in the first six overs.
On the night, two of the first six overs were Yadav’s off-spin, brought in specifically to target the four left-handers in the Delhi top six. But it was Rahul Chahar who stole the show, prising out three wickets, including Shikhar Dhawan, providing the first breakthrough.
Eventually MI needed only 10 of the possible 12 overs from the spinners, as their fast bowlers too chipped in with three wickets. Right from their team selection, to the toss, to their execution, they read the conditions better. As the two teams shook hands after the game, it was striking how close the blue of the Mumbai was the the colours of the home team. In the way they planned and played the conditions, they practically were.