Win the toss and elect to bowl. This has more or less been the winning formula for teams in the Indian Premier League (IPL) this season. The fact that 30 out of the 43 games played have been won by teams chasing shows why captains have been itching to invite their opponents to bat first. Irrespective of the kind of pitch, teams have opted to chase a target rather than set one in the IPL this year.
But surprise, surprise!
Rohit Sharma won the toss in Visakhapatnam against the Kings XI Punjab on Friday and decided that his Mumbai Indians side would bat first instead of the more tried and tested game plan of bowling first. Previously, MI had won five out of the seven games while chasing, while lost three out of four when they batted first.
So what made Rohit Sharma ditch the working approach and tread on a path that has often ended in defeat not just for Mumbai Indians but for the other sides as well? Sharma justified the decision by stating that the Visakhapatnam pitch would get slower as the game progressed and hence would want to make the most of the pitch by batting first.
Despite a victory in their last outing against the Royal Challengers Bangalore on Wednesday, the Mumbai Indians' chase was no cakewalk; the defending champions lost wickets at regular intervals and edged past RCB in the end.
At Visakhapatnam, where the pitch has a lot more to offer for the bowlers, Mumbai Indians had slumped to their all-time worst defeat. Perhaps, Rohit Sharma wasn’t too comfortable with the idea of chasing again on this track. The ghosts of the disastrous 85-run defeat to Sunrisers Hyderabad on the same venue a little less than a week ago seemed to be playing a part in Rohit Sharma's decision.
On the other hand, Mumbai Indians' bowlers have been performing exceptionally. After being the only side to restrict RCB below 170 this season, Sharma felt much more secure relying on his bowlers to do the job in the second innings.
While the plan ticked all logical boxes, it pointed to a lack of confidence among the Mumbai Indians batting side. This was reflected in the tame manner with which Mumbai Indians opened their batting and scored just two quick wickets. The horror of the Sunrisers game haunted the batsmen as they went into a shell to avoid a similar disaster. The result – lowest Powerplay score in the IPL this season.
When a score of 150 and above started to look like a remote possibility, Rohit Sharma perished trying to shift gears, making the task more daunting. Kieron Pollard smashed a few out of the park and a 140 plus score seemed on the cards again, but the pitch wasn't as generous and Pollard couldn't see the innings through as he would have done on a flatter Wankhede track.
However, the West Indian was the only real victim of the slowness of the pitch, the rest were done by being too wary of the way the Vizag wicket may play. It was more of a mental block than technical frailty and Rohit Sharma's strange decision to bat first was the first sign of that.
Apart from the mental barrier, there are other problems plaguing the Mumbai Indians batting, especially at the top of the order and at the number four position. With Parthiv Patel failing to provide the required support to Rohit Sharma while opening innings, Mumbai Indians went with Unmukt Chand but it didn't work.
With the likes of Buttler and Pollard to finish off innings as they did in Bengaluru, there needs to be someone to set it up for those coming later down the order. At times this season, MI have depended on the brilliance of Rohit Sharma and, at times Ambati Rayudu, until the big hitters come on. But on days like Friday when these failed to survive for long, the Mumbai have lacked a batsman at the number four position who can carry the innings to the last 5-6 overs.
There are gaps to plug in the Mumbai Indians batting order and the lively pitch at Visakhapatnam has exposed their weakness. It has send jitters to their batsman, who have become more fragile by an unfriendly wicket they have to call home as against the belter at the Wankhede.
Shifting home games to Vishakhapatnam has become an added problem for the Mumbai Indians batting. A batting that had deficiencies in terms of personnel are now facing an extra mental barrier of hostile conditions that has easily got the better of them.
With an in-form Delhi Daredevils side visiting Mumbai's new home next, Mumbai need to get rid of their home-sickness and own up to the wicket at Visakhapatnam. While Martin Guptill and Corey Anderson represent substantial options to solve Mumbai Indians' top-order woes, they must first get over the psychological obstacle of batting on this lively wicket, or be ready to kiss goodbye to their IPL crown.
Updated Date: May 14, 2016 18:43 PM