The cricket Gods appear to have kept the faucet running on full flow at the moment.
After witnessing the bowlers rear their head up in the last weekend, producing some tense finishes in the process, the last three games have witnessed the tournament return to the slam-bang nature that it has traditionally been associated with.
The latest clash of the 10th edition of India’s premier Twenty20 tournament saw perennial heavyweights Mumbai Indians (MI) romp to what should rank among their easiest wins ever, inflicting an eight-wicket hammering on Kings XI Punjab (KXIP), thereby extending the latter’s losing streak to four while stretching their own winning run to five.
Except the target wasn’t quite the one that you would perceive to be such.
KXIP, having undone all the good work at the start of their campaign by losing their last three games, looked determined to arrest the slide, with captain Glenn Maxwell announcing four changes in the team that suffered a narrow loss to Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) in the last outing, including Shaun Marsh who finally got some gameplay in the tournament after sitting on the sidelines all along.
Hashim Amla, who deserved the ‘Man of the Match’ award on Thursday evening for his scintillating ton that turned out to be his first in the format, was off to a rather shaky start, surviving a couple of dismissal scares in the first over that he faced in the innings.
Marsh, who hit a couple of gritty half-centuries in the recent Test series against India, was unlucky to have missed out on a similar milestone in this game judging by the kind of start that he got off to. He was constantly offered room on the off-side by the likes of Hardik Pandya and Harbhajan Singh, and he never shied away from his all-powerful cut. That was before a lapse of concentration allowed Mitchell McClenaghan to draw first blood, as he flicked straight to Kieron Pollard at midwicket.
Krunal Pandya once again proved his worth to the two-time champions, this time with the ball as he finished the most economical among the wicket-takers (4-0-29-1) getting the wicket of wicketkeeper-batsman Wriddhiman Saha with a clever change of line and length that rattled his leg-stump, and gave MI the vision of restricting KXIP to a score within the 160-mark. That Amla and Saha had failed to score a boundary in four overs shortly before the latter’s dismissal boosted such hopes.
What washed those thoughts away was a couple of insipid overs by McClenaghan and pace spearhead Lasith Malinga, with the two leading bowlers giving away 50 runs in the middle stages to resurrect the opposition innings. What made their case a helpless and a frustrating one was Amla’s class and Maxwell’s strength-cum-innovation. Even though Maxwell departed 10 short of his fifty, with fellow Australian all-rounder Marcus Stoinis heading back shortly after, there was no stopping Amla as he tore the Mumbai attack apart with his touch of genius.
While it was a mixed night for McClenaghan, who took two wickets on one hand, and conceded 28 off one over on the other, Malinga produced his worst-ever IPL figures by going wicketless for 58 runs. KXIP finished two short of what would have been their 12th 200-run innings total. Despite the pitch turning out to be one of the liveliest in the tournament so far, and unpredictability being a hallmark of this format, the odds were stacked against MI at the start of the chase.
Add to that the wobbly top-order, which had been consistently crumbling in the matches played so far in the tournament, only to get rescued by the spirited middle-order, often from near-impossible situations (remember Samuel Badree’s early destruction at Bengaluru, before Pollard and Krunal’s divine intervention?).
Parthiv Patel and Jos Buttler were failing to find consistency in getting Mumbai off to a strong start with a sizeable opening stand, save the win against Kolkata Knight Riders, from which talk of shifting Buttler to the middle-order began to arise. A big partnership was exactly what Mumbai needed on this occasion if they were to chase down a total of that magnitude, and that is exactly what the pair delivered on this occasion.
The only time Parthiv and Buttler looked to play it safe and rotate the strike between themselves was in the first few deliveries of the opening over, and the latter seemed to have signalled off the slog fest with a powerful swing of the bat towards the midwicket fence.
While the KXIP bowling attack is not very different from that of the Gujarat Lions, one did not expect them to get treated so savagely by the MI openers. In a display of absolute annihilation, the MI top-order finally came to the fore in the ongoing tournament, the progress of which should please the captain, coach as well as everyone associated with the franchise alike, for it was a key worry in Mumbai’s progress in the ongoing tournament despite winning most of their games.
While Parthiv was deft in his batting style, Buttler gave the likes of Maxwell, and even teammate Pollard and some of the more established hard-hitters such as Chris Gayle and Brendon McCullum, competition in their art form with sheer display of brute power.
A case in point would be his lofted cover drive that ended up crossing the boundary in the fourth over, despite being stopped by substitute fielder David Miller’s hands at cover. Another would be the flattest of sixes that he hit off Sandeep Sharma later in the innings, with the ball barely travelling over head height while managing to hit the fence.
It was an innings that Buttler badly needed ever since he was bought by the franchise last year, and somehow always fell short of despite getting the necessary starts on most occasions. There would have been those questioning his price tag of Rs 1.5 crore in the IPL 2016 player auction. The criticism grew to the extent of replacing him with Rohit Sharma at the top of the order, after his struggle to convert his starts in the last few games. This was an innings that Buttler needed to lend some justice to the hype surrounding him, given his services for the England team, especially in the limited-overs format.
And then there was the usual suspect — Nitish Rana. In what is turning out to be a cat-and-mouse game for the ‘Orange Cap’, Rana put up yet another defiant display that included quite a few hooks towards the fine-leg boundary, including the winning six. Not only has Rana made terrific use of the opportunity to bat at No 3, scoring fifties in all four innings so far, but he would have captured the attention of the national selectors by now, keeping India’s future tours in mind.
With five wins in six games, all coming in the form of chases, Mumbai clearly are on a roll, and the fact that they have two games coming up at their fortress of the Wankhede Stadium further boosts their hopes of maintaining their juggernaut. The top-order now firing on all cylinders irons yet another crease out for Mumbai, and they will now look at reshuffling their bowling unit in order to give a bowler or two some rest. Maybe they could look at including someone like Mitchell Johnson in the next couple of games. Who knows the dividends that such a move could reap.