The 14th season of the IPL will go down as the most unusual one yet. And if you are a team’s analyst or a part of the coaching staff, it has also been the most complex one. Apart from the regular headache of choosing the four foreign players, strategy across phases and tactics against a team, there has been a variable that has had a more significant impact than it does in a normal season. That variable is the venue.
By their fifth game in Chennai, the Mumbai Indians were almost suffocating with a dire need to get out of there. Delhi expanded their lungs – however ironic that sounds to the local population – to help them overrun their opposition with characteristic ease. Back in UAE for the second-half, on wickets that do not resemble the belters of the Kotla, Mumbai’s batting seem out of gas again.
Further pushing them back has been Trent Boult, indifferent from the one who was their newfound hero last season. And, a negative contribution from their fifth bowling option. With eight points in nine games, Mumbai are one defeat away from the scenario from where they will need everything to go their way.
Although the journey has been different, the story of Royal Challengers Bangalore has been somewhat similar. On the sticky wickets in Chennai, their exceptional batsmen were able to stand out in comparison to the mere mortals. This allowed even their average bowling line-up to seem like an all-bases-covered attack.
Changing venues opened their eyes a bit, with one-sided defeats against Chennai and Punjab. The drag has continued in their two games in UAE. Bangalore’s losing streak in the gulf country has now extended to seven games.
In T20s, win or loss is often a factor of fine margins. Getting across the line on the final ball or even in a Super Over fetches two points. The loser gets nothing. The net run rate is hence the determinant of how consistent a team has been.
After 35 games in this season, RCB’s NRR of -0.720 is the lowest of the lot. It is a reflection of the side they have been. A team with a few players capable of winning games on their own, but nothing outside them with the skill to compete in a league becoming tougher by the season.
With a record start, the situation for Bangalore is not as dire as for Mumbai. But, a loss will inflate the anxiety to a level from where they do not have a history of coming out, unlike their opposition, Mumbai.
A collective blip
In the season which they dominated throughout last year, the difference between Mumbai and the next best side with the bat in the death overs was 33 runs per hundred balls. This season, their run rate of 8.80 is lower than every side despite scoring 66 runs in five overs and 41 in 3.3 overs in the two matches they played in Delhi. This highlights their struggle at other venues.
More than one batsman from their feared middle-order has struggled and thus Mumbai have lagged the most in a phase they had bossed earlier.
Ishan Kishan is still searching for the rhythm from last year. Twin knocks in Delhi inflate Kieron Pollard’s numbers, which are at an average of 20.2 and a strike rate of 118.8 outside Kotla this season. Krunal Pandya has been Mumbai’s weakest link for a few years now.
The unavailability of Hardik has affected them on multiple fronts. Not only have they missed a crucial hitter in the lower middle-order, but these results in their sixth bowling option being Pollard. They arrived in UAE without the leverage to start slow. Boult – who has their second-highest wicket-taker last year – has leaked runs at the economy of 9.7 in the last two games. In fact, it was his over against Chennai that shifted the momentum in that game.
Krunal being the usual culprit has not helped. An economy of 10.4 in the last two games to go with a minimal contribution with the bat has put his spot in a jeopardy. But, with untested options like Anukul Roy on the bench and the headache around Hardik’s fitness – who has begun training again - not sure how much Mumbai can gamble in the make or break phase of the tournament.
RCB would take a one-man show
The revolving doors in RCB unit continued. Kyle Jamieson – their lone foreign pacer – was out with a niggle. So they chose to replace him with Tim David, a batsman. The player sacrificed was Sachin Baby who Mike Hesson described as “a real batsman at six, a left-hander and also a sixth bowling option.” RCB decided that they did not require so much talent after one outing.
The pacer who came in to replace Jamieson was Navdeep Saini whose only game in the season previously yielded 0/27 in two overs against the same side, Chennai during the first half. After 0/25 in two overs in the last game, he can consider his IPL season over.
A knock of one off three balls from David meant that RCB lost out on both departments with the changes they made. We would never know as to why in a small ground like Sharjah they opted to bolster their batting over the inclusion of any other foreign pacer in their squad.
When Virat Kohli got out with the score of 111 after 13.2 overs, there was a feeling of it being beneficial for RCB with the firepower to follow. The argument of Kohli’s approach against spin – 10 runs off 10 balls – is an argument for another day. In reality, RCB failed to assess a realistic target and hence the batsmen to follow could add only 45 runs off the last 40 balls while trying for a bridge too far.
In dire need of a win, RCB would take an individual brilliance against Mumbai. That has often been their secret over a team effort. They would take a one-man show from either of their big guns in AB de Villiers or Glenn Maxwell.
Maxwell had a horror run in UAE last year. Things have started on a similar note this year. RCB would hope they turn for the better before there is a fresh selection headache for them. AB de Villiers has usually been their man against Mumbai and the best batsman against Bumrah at the death. Desperate as they are, they will look up to him to conjure some magic to resurrect their campaign.
RCB: Devdutt Padikkal, Virat Kohli (c), Srikar Bharat (wk), Glenn Maxwell, AB de Villiers, Shahbaz Ahmed/ Sachin Baby, Wanindu Hasaranga/George Garton, Kyle Jamieson, Harshal Patel, Mohammed Siraj, Yuzvendra Chahal
MI: Quinton de Kock (wk), Rohit Sharma (c), Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan, Kieron Pollard, Krunal Pandya/Anukul Roy, Hardik Pandya/Saurabh Tiwary, Adam Milne, Rahul Chahar, Trent Boult, Jasprit Bumrah