Match 7: MI vs RCB, Chinnaswamy Stadium, March 28
Some matches organise themselves into neat, even Homeric, narratives with outsize heroes to cheer and villains to sneer at. Others seem like picture books; compelling vignettes that you consume in isolation, but cannot stitch together into a storyline. The 7th match of the IPL, with RCB hosting MI in Bangalore, fell into the latter category. Here, a series of snapshots:
#1. So much of cricket is won or lost before the first ball is bowled. In its first game at home, RCB’s Virat Kohli had the luck of the toss going in his favour when counterpart Rohit Sharma called wrong – and he chose to field on a wicket – flat, hard, with a powdercoat of live grass -- that had BAT FIRST etched on it in big, bold letters. It’s been the story of this IPL thus far, ever since in the tournament opener MS Dhoni chose to field and said he had no idea what the wicket would do – home teams seem unsure of their own grounds.
#2. Rohit Sharma is arguably the most frustrating batsman in contemporary cricket – blessed by the gods with the eye of an eagle and allied to a sublime touch. Which is why, no matter what he does, you are left feeling short-changed, left thinking that he didn’t deliver on his immense promise. Here he began with two fluid fours off his pads in the first over bowled by Umesh Yadav; lashed a flowing cover drive to Navdeep Saini hitting the high 140s; smacked the same bowler, in his next over, for a six with a ridiculously easy short arm pull to a ball you would swear wasn’t short enough for the shot; off-drove drove Mohammed Siraj; lofted an off drive off Saini… It was as if time stopped for him; as if he had minutes to pick line and length, chose between maybe four different shots, and then nail the one he decided on. That he hit eight fours and a six without ever having to play ugly was par for the course; that he got out on 48 (33 balls) in the 11th over, when it seemed like he could bat forever, is why he is a batsman who frustrates as much as he exhilarates.
#3. If this was the era of kings and kingdoms, court poets would likely be singing paeans to Yuzvendra Chahal. He breaks every piety of T20 cricket, ignores every bit of conventional wisdom – and at the time of writing this, he is the one leading the wicket-taking table in this tournament. He has so much going for him – control, variety, the chess player’s ability to think two steps ahead of the opponent. But more than all this, he has the heart of a predator sighting prey. He sized up Quinton de Kock, forced him into unorthodoxy by posting a slip, and took out his middle stump. When Yuvraj Singh lofted, then pulled, then lofted him for three successive sixes, Chahal didn’t back off as you would expect – instead, he slowed the ball down further, floated it higher, and landed it on a fuller length to force the miscue that ended up in the hands of mid off. When Suryakumar Yadav eased into top gear, Chahal tossed one up higher, fuller, wider of off and had him miscue the loft. And then he foxed the dangerous Keiron Pollard into another miscue to close out a spell of 4 for 38 in his allotted four. Thanks largely to his efforts, Mumbai Indians slid from 3-141 at one point to 7 for 147 in the 18th.
#4. Commentators and analysts make a fetish of saying that if openers provide a good platform, a strong batting side can make it count. I wonder? Sometimes, the very fact that you have a strong platform and your batting is deep and strong causes a bad attack of over-ambition; like a car going downhill without brakes, you try to go too fast for your own good, and you crash. How else do you explain how Mumbai Indians, on 142/4 when Suryakumar Yadav fell in the 16th over and looking at 200, lost Pollard, Krunal and McClenaghan to false shots, and counting Markande, lost four wickets for 13 runs? It was only a typically muscular cameo by Hardik Pandya, who clubbed three sixes and two fours in an unbeaten 32 off 14 balls, that saved Mumbai’s blushes and got them to a defensible 187/8.
#5. Virat Kohli is sui generis. Even in a contest between two sides packed with star stroke-players, there is something about the India/RCB captain that elevates him to another plane. An IPL teaser ad has Jasprit Bumrah talking of wanting to knock over the “world’s best batsman”. And Virat, in response, tells Bumrah to expect no favours. That wasn’t an ad so much as a prophesy – here, he walked out to face Bumrah. One dot ball to get his eye in, and then the next three balls were eased to various parts of the field for boundaries. Hardik Pandya in the next over beat Kohli with pace and bounce, and flashed a look of triumph – a square driven four followed by a fluid cover drive, and Pandya walked away with eyes fixed on the ground. Kohli at that point, 20 runs, 8 balls, five fours. What do you write about someone who has exhausted all superlatives? Oh by the way, almost unnoticed, Virat Kohli passed 5000 runs in IPL when he reached 46 (31 balls). By way of anti-climax, Bumrah was bowling then – his second over, after his national captain had creamed him for 3 successive fours in his first over. Two balls later Bumrah bounced, Kohli swung into a pull, the ball grew big on him and he ended up connecting over his head (rather than in front of his eyes and over the left shoulder, as the coaching manual prescribes) and Hardik Pandya held the skier at square leg. (46 off 32, 6 fours).
#6. What’s with the return of the granddads this season? The match featured two, both in Mumbai’s blue: Yuvraj Singh, and Lasith Malinga. And improbable as the Yuvraj comeback is, Malinga has it beat: He was the bowling coach last season, which when you think of his orthodoxy-stretching action, is bizarre in itself; he last played an IPL game in May 2017; and here he is, back in the playing XI. Still slingy, still unorthodox and hard to pick, but pace-wise and otherwise a shadow of the bowler who, with 154 IPL wickets to his name, is the leading wicket-taker in the tournament. It’s a tad sad, actually, to see fading superstars in action, sort of like watching Mick Jagger on stage today: You remember what he was, and you see what he is, and you wish you had been left with your memories of that time when he owned the stage. And yet – he’s been there, he’s done that, and cometh the hour…
#7. Just to set Indian minds at rest – at least, somewhat – Bumrah’s shoulder is fine. But judging by how he bowled – high 135s tops, and he bowled the three quarter length rather than the fuller one he prefers and made no effort to go yorker-length – he is likely shielding his shoulder yet, not subjecting it to the strain of hitting the 145 mark and/or the fuller length.
#8. The anatomy of a chase: RCB were 60/1 at the end of the powerplay on the back of cameos by openers Moeen Ali and Parthiv Patel and Kohli’s fluid start. The home side reached 80/2 at the end of 10 and 127/3 in 15 – at which point RCB was behind MI which, at that same point, had reached 142/2. But it was starting in the 16th over that the wheels came off the MI innings and, starting with Suryakumar Yadav, they lost wickets in a heap. That was RCB’s opportunity to play catch up, and in AB de Villiers they had the batsman to do it.
A four and two sixes off Malinga in the 16th set the home crowd on fire. Bumrah pulled it back with an over, the 17th, in which he gave just one run and, off the first ball, induced Shimron Hetmeyer into skying a slog to mid off. But Hardik Pandya, who had closed the MI innings with a series of big hits, found that what goes around comes around – in the 18th over, AB hacked him over point when he went wide, swung him over square leg when he went full, and at the end of the over RCB needed 22 off 12.
Bumrah for the 19th: Short, outside off and de Grandhomme lofted it straight down the throat of Krunal Pandya at deep cover. The over produced just 5 runs, for the one wicket, and left Malinga 17 runs to defend in the last over.
Shivam Dube wound up and smacked Malinga for six over long off to start the over. Bumrah, of all people, ran back from square leg but couldn’t hold a skier from Dube off the second ball. Malinga found the ghost of his once feared yorker to keep AB to just one off the third. Dube flayed one to extra cover off the fourth. The fifth was full again, and all AB, then on 60 off 40, could do was slap the single to long on – and it was all over, with RCB needing 7 off the last ball. One last full length ball, Dube lashed at it but just managed the single to long on, and MI took the game by six runs, leaving a forlorn AB to walk back with his head hanging as low as he could manage.
In the end, two men won it for MI: A bowler well past his prime working from muscle memory, and his successor, arguably the best death overs bowler in the world.