“First match of the season… we made too many mistakes.” This isn’t just an ordinary statement by a random captain in franchise cricket. This was Rohit Sharma after his team was flogged at home for 213 runs and then lost by 37 runs. This was Mumbai Indians making a rugged start to yet another IPL season – this is a serial ‘slow starting’ team.
It is tough in franchise cricket to just bring players together once a year, and expect them to ride overall roughness to put in smooth performances from the get-go. Winning and losing can often be the difference between sandpapering over such cracks – for example, Chennai Super Kings, Kolkata Knight Riders and Delhi Capitals, who have all won during this opening weekend, know there is a lot of room for improvement still. But they would still take these starting victories gleefully.
Delhi Capitals, in particular, ought to be delighted. While Chennai and Kolkata are set in their ways, things are happening anew at the Delhi franchise. No, it is not simply symbolic as concerns the renaming – there has been a definitive restructuring of how this franchise works, an inexperienced captain is leading from the very beginning, and they have brought in experienced players to compliment their young batsmen (not the other way round).
On the face of it, this mixture shouldn’t gel so quickly. But, T20 cricket is quickly moving towards consummate professionalism – you jet into different countries at different times and play as per demands of conditions/opposition. Basically, it may be slam-bang, albeit with a difference. Colin Ingram is a pertinent example herein. He has just stepped off the plane having played in the Pakistan Super League (scored 344 runs in 11 games for Karachi Kings at strike-rate 164.59) and before that he featured in the Big Bash League (333 runs in 13 games for Adelaide Strikers at strike-rate 138.75).
This is red-hot form, whichever way you look at it and Ingram’s inclusion in the side provides Delhi Capitals a leg-on in the middle overs. Last season, this responsibility had fallen on the likes of Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant, but they are too young to be tempered by such burden. They need a free-flowing role to produce their best, and Sunday night was the first step in that direction.
It was an all-round story thus for Delhi Capitals, with experienced T20 players lending a fine balance to their playing eleven. Take Shikhar Dhawan, for instance, as he went about scoring 43 off 36 balls. It wasn’t your typical heady T20 start, but Dhawan did enough to anchor the start and allowed Delhi’s batting to run deep. Ingram did the horse-work in the middle overs, setting up a base for that tall score.
Similarly, with the ball, Kagiso Rabada was able to do his thing coming in at first-change with Trent Boult and Ishant Sharma doing much of the legwork sharing the new ball. With the likes of Chris Morris and Sandeep Lamichhane waiting in the wings, Delhi Capitals have a balanced bench to pick from and build on this victory.
Even so, there is no doubt about who garnered headlines on this opening weekend of 2019 IPL. Pant went into this season with an enhanced reputation undoubtedly, but there is still so much to do in respect of earning a World Cup spot. This – smacking 78 not out off 27 balls with seven sixes at 288.89 – was only a start.
When you look at Pant, ‘exuberance of youth’ is the phrase that comes up to mind quickly. And we have witnessed it time and again, especially in the past season wherein he set alight the Test arena in both England and Australia. Never mind those Test hundreds, there have been occasions where he has let grip on proceedings slip, and there has been debate over a lack of maturity as recently as the Australia ODIs.
This ‘exuberance’ though is what makes Pant tick. Go and rewind the tape back from Sunday night – those sixes weren’t your textbook cricket shots. There was an element of Pant about each of those hits, whether in power, or audacity or simply, in the will to dispatch the ball miles away. On air, the likes of Kevin Pietersen and Sanjay Manjrekar wondered if he had ‘practiced’ those shots in the nets.
No, you cannot learn those hits, because you don’t get the likes of Jasprit Bumrah bowling in anger during practice sessions. To say Pant dominated the best white-ball bowler in world cricket would be an understatement. Sample this – in the 18th over, the Mumbai Indians pacer unleashed a yorker and Pant dispatched it over square leg for six. It was a shot we have seen before – MS Dhoni’s trademark helicopter – but Pant made it his own by jumping deep into the crease to make room for his bat swing.
Whenever a bowler gets hit at the death, his plans change, and Bumrah seemed to be no different. Only, he didn’t know where to bowl at Pant and this was a massive indicator of how the battle had swung in Delhi Capital’s favour during this mini-exchange. In the 20th over then, Bumrah bowled short of length or good length to Pant, one of which was duly deposited over the ropes without bother.
Bumrah was played off the park; so much so that Rohit Sharma and Yuvraj Singh were both pictured wondering out aloud and the captain even questioned if the bowler was using his mind. Mumbai Indians’ well-set plans didn’t just go awry, they were obliterated.
Pant made sure that his calculated hitting put the game beyond the reach of Mumbai’s mighty batting line-up, and in doing so, he fired a massive first salvo in a bid to shore up the second keeper-batsman slot for the upcoming World Cup.
Through the course of this IPL season, we will get to see brilliant match-ups between premier Indian batsmen and bowlers, who have excelled in white-ball cricket. Pant versus Bumrah was just the first round of starters of a lengthy multiple-course dinner.