By Nishad Pai Vaidya
The euphoria of a scintillating victory can be a huge distraction for any side. It is very easy for the Mumbai Indians to get carried away by the heroics of heroics of Robin Peterson, Ambati Rayudu and Rohit Sharma, but it is imperative that they don’t lose focus and address the chinks in the armour. It is their first win since the game against Rajasthan and their second jail-break during a run-chase this season – clear indications that things aren’t falling in place for them.
Harbhajan Singh’s captaincy during Kings XI Punjab’s batting at Mohali was shocking, to say the least. For a team that has struggled to perform to potential in the last few games, the intensity seemed to be missing in the intial overs. The bowling changes didn’t help either as there were a few surprising decisions made. Robin Peterson – playing his first game in the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2012 – opened the bowling and did well to concede only three runs. South Africa have used him with the new ball on a few occasions and he has shown the ability to strike and maintain pressure. However, that was his only over as other alternatives were preferred ahead of him.
James Franklin, too, was subjected to a similar mismanagement in the field. The New Zealander bowled one over conceding five runs and accounting for the wicket of the big fish, Shaun Marsh – the man who smashed Mumbai in their previous encounter. Instead, we saw Clint McKay, Munaf Patel, Kieron Pollard and Harbhajan struggling to stem the flow of runs. In the last five overs, Mumbai conceded 68 runs due to an untidy display by some of these bowlers. Peterson and Franklin deserved another shot as they showed signs of getting their channels right.
It is clear that Mumbai are struggling without their trump-card Lasith Malinga. However, they have some of the most successful bowlers in their ranks, who have the venom to trick the batsmen. Rudra Pratap Singh and Munaf Patel are amongst the top six wicket-takers in the history of IPL, behind their teammate and leader of the pack, Malinga. In the presence of Malinga, the bowlers don’t have to take a lot of pressure as they can capitalise on his good work. In his absence, the onus falls upon them to strangle the batsmen and pick up wickets. Consider this: Munaf, one of the most accurate bowlers in the league, has conceded 82 runs for no wickets in the last two games!
However, it was the axing of Pragyan Ojha which was most astonishing. Ojha – a former Purple Cap holder – has been consistent in the IPL since the first season and was doing a fairly decent job with the ball. It was only during the game against Punjab at Wankhede that he failed to bowl well and got hit around. His exclusion from the eleven is hard to digest keeping Harbhajan’s own bowling form in perspective.
If one goes through Mumbai’s bowling records in the ongoing season, one would find that Harbhajan is languishing in the wickets column. In seven matches, he has managed to scalp one victim – a very small number for a frontline bowler of his repute. An appalling average of 164.00 and an economy of 7.45 reflects the magnitude of his struggle. In comparison, Ojha has picked up six wickets in his six outings at an average of 24.16. An economy rate of 6.90 is very good for a spinner in the shortest format. It looks like Harbhajan’s reputation and the fact that he is the captain are the only things saving him from the axe. Had someone else led the side, he may not have hesitated in dropping Harbhajan and retaining Ojha. It would have been an easier decision to make considering his exclusion from the Indian side.
What is most surprising is that Harbhajan continues to bowl flat and fast. Most of his deliveries rush through without any turn and the batsmen have no problems in taking on him. Such balls may not be very easy to hit, but with the passage of time batsmen may have learned a trick or two to tackle them effectively. The moment that signified his frustration was when he conceded five wides down the leg side. Dinesh Karthik – the wicket-keeper should have got to it, but missed it completely. A frustrated Harbhajan then had a go at his teammate which was appalling, bearing in mind his own problems. He was to blame for bowling that horrible delivery and there are no excuses for getting it wrong. However, he bowled a similar delivery later in the same over, but Karthik was able to save his captain from the blushes.
The other thing Mumbai Indians would be worried about is their batting during run-chases. Although they are crossing the finish line, it is evident that they are leaving it too late. It isn’t possible for players like Rohit, Rayudu and Peterson to pull a rabbit out of the hat every single time and there would be a few occasions when they flatter to deceive. Mumbai have been lucky that they have held their nerve and fought against all odds – something that isn’t going to happen every day.
As discussed in a previous article, Mumbai’s run-chase conundrum started during the IPL 2011 and continued into their victorious Champions League T20 (CLT20) campaign. On paper, they are probably the strongest unit in the competition, but in the face of a run-chase they falter and do not play to potential. In the coming games, their top order has to take the initiative and help make the task a lot easier. If they do not correct this anomaly, it would come to haunt them and end their campaign – similar to the fate of their 2011 season.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)