There was a different vibe at the Wankhede Stadium on Tuesday, the first weekday IPL game of the season in Mumbai. The crowds beat the usual traffic snarls, humid weather and the ever-on-the-move rush to be greeted to some soft English rock at the stadium. It didn’t seem like a sporting arena for a long time. Even three defeats wasn’t enough to damage their spirits. And as the cricket contest got going, they seemed to have forgotten, even in their blue jerseys, as to where their loyalties lied. They cheered for every Mumbai Indians wicket with as much passion as they celebrated their boundaries. All they needed was a reason to dance because the entertainment just didn’t seem enough.
And at the other end of the emotional spectrum stood Virat Kohli like a lone warrior, who once again saw the support system around him crash. To be Virat Kohli in IPL must be a curse. For all the powers bestowed and deliverance of it, there is still no gratification. 11 seasons, over 5000 runs and yet he knows that neither can he be reliant on others around him nor can he do it all by himself. Such is the nature of a team sport that a lone ranger can’t reach the peak; en route the team becomes a baggage and pulls it down.
For as much as he would want to or not, Kohli can’t hide emotions, and he generously offered a range of them. The smiles and excitement to begin with, the disappointment, the frustration, the ‘I-can’t-buy-this-nonsense’ look. But by the end of it all, he just painted a face of indifference. The game, to begin with, was quite an action-packed affair but for a change, by the last over, Mumbai Indians weren’t counting on their luck.
It makes for quite an unusual tale when all the action is reserved for the start and the conclusion is just a stretch. First two balls of the game, two searing swingers by Umesh Yadav, and two batsmen losing their stumps – as perfect as it could get. And unfortunate for the competition, RCB’s dominance ended there.
How they failed to do well despite the start and the bowling conditions that could’ve aided an early collapse, remains a mystery, something that only they will have an answer to, or possibly not even them. Even if the carnage of Evin Lewis or Rohit Sharma’s quintessential well-accelerated batting had to be excused, to claim that the bowling was below ordinary would be respectful at best. With ample movement on offer, the bowlers continued to pitch the ball short on a regular basis, to go with the offerings of full tosses and 16 runs leaked via wides. They should be glad the Mumbai crowd was on a trip of its own and not its usual nasty self. And nor was there any Barmy Army to bring out the chants of ‘your bowling is shite’. For all the talking up Kohli had done about the bowling unit ahead of the season, of how they are going to lead the charge,Tuesday’s display would have left the skipper let down.
In terms of planning, RCB had ticked all the right boxes. Two good spinners, three pacers and a backup. For a change, they had an ideal composition on paper. But like RCB would’ve realised many times in the past, that is just the start of a cricket match. It was a good pack to go with, but as Daniel Vettori said after the game, the poor show was “purely an execution thing.”
But he also empathised with his spinners, who were carted for 64 runs in 5 overs, as compared to MI’s – Krunal Pandya and Mayank Markande – who returned 8-0-53-4. “With Washington and Yuzi, they were in a defensive position with Rohit and Lewis being very aggressive. So we bowled defensively,” he added. “When Mumbai spinners came on, their team was in a good position and that allowed them to actually bowl and be little more attacking. We saw the rewards what they got.”
213 is a big total but it isn’t something that any team would discount or be unprepared for at the venue. The fact that RCB choked under the pressure of the target and failed as a batting group only added to the woes and further accentuated Kohli’s frustration. He batted along for an unbeaten 92. For all of his past miseries with the team, to see him bat through 20 overs and remain unbeaten is still a rare sight.
Unlike his head coach, Kohli directed his ire towards the batting unit, and as he was handed over the Orange Cap, said, “I don’t feel like wearing this (orange cap) right now because it really doesn’t matter. We got off to a great start but we just threw it away. We need to reflect on our dismissals. We knew there would be a little bit of dew, we needed not your 40-45s but 80-85s.”
The owner has changed, the team has changed, the jersey too; yet the manner of this defeat is similar to so many of RCB’s other losses It’s an unpleasant past and the narrative refuses to change. Yet again, Kohli has to look at the squad, and search for who will stand up with him.