IPL 2017: Mumbai Indians' valiance in loss to Kings XI Punjab papers over middle-order woes

In little less than four hours of cricket at the Wankhede Stadium on Thursday, 453 runs were scored as the Mumbai Indians and Kings XI Punjab went hell for leather with the bat in yet another Indian Premier League (IPL) meeting.

While the new wicket that was used at the Wankhede for this game proved to be a death knell for the bowlers, it spelt pure entertainment for a near-packed arena. It was Mumbai Indians' last home game of the group stages and the crowd had poured in, in anticipation of one last hurrah from their team. And even though they didn't get to witness that in terms of the result, the gathered audiences would've gone home pretty pleased with the feast that was served to them by the batsmen of both teams.

Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya of Mumbai Indians during the match against Kings XI Punjab. Sportzpics/IPL

Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya of Mumbai Indians during the match against Kings XI Punjab. Sportzpics/IPL

Even for the most ardent of Mumbai Indians supporters, the valiance shown by the team in trying to chase down a mammoth score of 230 would have pacified the pain inflicted by the defeat.

Just as the fans went home rejoicing and cherishing a great cricket match, the fact that Mumbai Indians fell to their second straight defeat for the first time this season, might have escaped the attention of many.

The back-to-back losses don't in any way hurt their chances of participation in the playoffs for the ongoing season, but it hardly counts as great preparation for it. The reverse could force them to take a longer route to the final, and prevent them from having a direct shot at reaching the final by playing in the Qualifier 1 which is slated to happen on their own patch in Mumbai.

However, what would worry Rohit Sharma and Co the most would be loss of the winning momentum. Before the consecutive losses against Sunrisers Hyderabad and Kings XI Punjab, Mumbai had only lost twice in the whole season. Call it complacency or the greater need for a win on the part of their opponents, the league's history suggest that the pace setters during the group stage are often vulnerable to such loss in momentum.

For most it has proved to be costly in the playoffs as only one team that has finished top of the pile at the end of the group stages has gone on to win the title. This season, Mumbai have been that team which has looked head and shoulders above everyone, but is just losing a bit of steam before the playoffs.

On Thursday against Kings XI Punjab, a team desperate for a win to keep their hopes in the competition alive, Mumbai's bowling attack came under attack. They were subjected to a placid pitch and some aggressive batting from the likes of Wriddhiman Saha and Martin Guptill who took the visitors to a flying start.

Glenn Maxwell, who replaced Guptill after a 68-run opening stand, upped the ante. His 47 off 21 balls laid the platform for the Kings XI Punjab to post a massive total on board. It appeared that their bid to do so would be derailed when Maxwell was castled by Jasprit Bumrah, but Wriddhiman Saha took charge of proceedings and never let the innings die down.

Cameos from Shaun Marsh and Axar Patel meant a score of 230 was posted. The same Mumbai attack that has been excellent throughout the season, looked short of ideas. The bowlers, who often found ways to curb onslaughts, break partnerships and sometimes even decimate an entire batting order, were put to the sword. The ever-reliable Lasith Malinga went for more than 11 runs per over, Rohit Sharma's go-to man Mitchell McClenaghan conceded 54 in his four overs while Harbhajan Singh, who has been nothing short of phenomenal in the middle overs for Mumbai Indians, was hit for 45 runs in his three overs.

Apart from Bumrah, who almost miraculously bowled a spell of 1/24 in his full quota, every Mumbai bowler was taken to cleaners. But in spite of conceding 230 runs, one can’t really be too critical of them as it was the first time they had a failure in this tournament, and that too on a pitch that offered little help for the bowlers.

Mumbai's batting department too has had its share of heroic moments this season. On Thursday night they almost had the greatest of them all as they fell just seven runs short of Kings XI Punjab's humongous total.

Once again, the openers provided a solid platform for the big hitters to blow the opponent away. Parthiv Patel and Lendl Simmons piled on 99 runs in just 8.4 overs for the opening stand and had the hosts right on course to pull off a record chase.

With the likes of Nitish Rana, Rohit, Kieron Pollard, Hardik Pandya and Karn Sharma to follow, Mumbai had enough fire power in their ranks to complete the job. But after the back-to-back wickets of Patel and Simmons, Mumbai forced themselves into a bit of shell with Rohit and Rana coming onto the crease.

Both were tentative in their approach as their recent form had been patchy. The duo tried to buy a bit of time before going for the jugular, but that never happened. In a chase as daunting as that, there wasn't room for any breather even after the kind of start that Mumbai Indians got.

Rohit and Rana fell for a combined total of 17 runs that were scored of 19 deliveries. That dip in run rate put the rest of the batting line-up under immense pressure. Pollard and Hardik were left to score 94 runs off the last six overs against an attack known for its death bowling.

The duo though made a match out of it. They went after the Punjab bowling in tandem and reduced the equation to 56 off 24 deliveries. Despite the fall of Hardik's wicket, Pollard, well-assisted by Karn put Mumbai in a winning position with 23 needed of the last two overs.

The visitors though had two aces in their pack. Sandeep Sharma bowled an excellent penultimate over where he conceded just seven runs. The boundaries dried up and the Mumbai Indians batsmen had to do with twos and threes. Mohit Sharma then completed the job conceding just nine in the final over.

Despite bringing the equation down to nine runs off four deliveries at a point, Punjab prevailed as Pollard ran out of steam in the end. Many would feel that the big West Indian failed to finish off the job, but he was consumed in just making a game out of an impossible situation.

Perhaps Mumbai missed a trick by not promoting him and Hardik ahead of an out-of-form Rana and a patchy Rohit to continue the momentum gathered by the openers. It would have put the Punjab bowlers under severe pressure, to the point that they would hopefully buckle under it.

As it panned out, the sluggish overs wasted by Mumbai's No 3 and 4 batsmen, left the visitors with enough runs to defend in the last overs even with Pollard going berserk.

While Rohit has shown form in recent matches, he has been far from his destructive self. He has rarely imposed himself on the opponent and that lack of bite in Mumbai's middle order has been telling all throughout the season. More often than not, Mumbai have been bailed out by their lower-middle order that is packed with big hitters.

This may be a minor chink in the armour of league leaders Mumbai, but with playoffs coming up, where teams would be fighting for every inch and trying to exploit every bit of the opponent's weakness, Mumbai must rectify this problem and ensure the middle order preserves the momentum built up by the openers to allow the big hitters below them to maximise their abilities.

While Thursday's defeat would be remembered as a valiant effort from Mumbai Indians, it does to some extent paper over the minute, yet existent wobbles in that middle order of theirs which might be a reason for their downfall in the latter stages.

Updated Date: May 12, 2017 08:11 AM

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