IPL 2021: Mumbai Indians look to bounce back against KKR

Ayaz Memon/Mumbai
Filed on September 23, 2021 | Last updated on September 23, 2021 at 12.29 am
Mumbai Indians' mentor Sachin Tendulkar (right) and coach Mahela Jayawardene (centre) during a training session. (MI Twitter)

Defeat against CSK last Sunday highlighted how critical Rohit Sharma and Hardik Pandya are to MI's fortunes in the league

A couple of upset results already have made the second phase of IPL 2021 unpredictable and hugely exciting. Both Rajasthan Royals and Kolkata Knight Riders – in the bottom half of the points table after the first phase — have made a move upwards, while Mumbai Indians and Royal Challengers Bangalore, though still in the top four, appear wobbly after losing their opening matches.

Defeat against CSK last Sunday highlighted how critical Rohit Sharma (particularly) and Hardik Pandya are to MI’s fortunes in the league.

Without these two, the defending champions looked unconvincing. Hardik’s absence was felt as both a medium pace bowler with clever variations and Rohit’s mastery was missed at the top of the order, perhaps even more as captain.

MI actually had CSK on the ropes after claiming four wickets for not too many in the powerplay. But the opportunity to seal the match was frittered away through some poor bowling. This is not to take anything away from a marvellous knock by Ruturaj Gaikwad, but even CSK would never have believed they could reach 156.

On a fairly placid track, the target wasn’t daunting. But MI’s response, in which some impetuosity and overconfidence were detectable, was ill-thought out. Loss of early wickets through poor strokes gave CSK an opening which the astute Dhoni exploited to the hilt by marshalling his bowlers and fielders superbly.

The absence of Hardik when MI needed a strong finish put greater pressure on acting captain Kieron Pollard, and once he was dismissed by Josh Hazlewood, the die was cast. The defending champions were reduced to also-rans, losing out on two valuable points, which could possibly have been theirs had Rohit and Hardik been playing.

If these two haven’t recovered from the niggles that kept them out of the first match, MI will have a task on hand to quell KKR in Thursday night’s match. The Knight Riders were simply outstanding against RCB a few days back, in batting, bowling and perhaps, most importantly, in resolve to win.

The last attribute was evident from the controlled hostility of pacers Lockie Ferguson, Andre Russell and Prasidh Krishna, the bamboozling effect of spinner Varun Chakravarthy, the ebullient batting of Shubman Gill and Venkatesh Iyer and the ruthless captaincy of Eoin Morgan, who didn’t relax the pressure on RCB even a whit after getting Virat Kohli’s wicket.

In the first phase, KKR had been deeply disappointing, not finding consistency in bowling, batting, game-plans, just about everything.

The big guns, including Morgan himself, failed to fire, leading to a disjointed effort and five defeats in seven matches, and precariously placed on the points table, when the tournament got suspended. The clinical victory over RCB suggests there has been a lot of backroom chat between the coach, captain and players, strategies have been redefined with key individuals assigned specific tasks, and a defensive – almost defeatist – mindset giving way to a more spirited one.

The issue for KKR, of course, is of sustaining such form over the next three weeks.

Having lost five matches before the start of this phase, they have to win four of the six matches remaining to make the cut for the playoffs. Three wins could also see them through if the tournament throws up more upsets, teams get tied on points and net run rate comes into play.

The equation is not as demanding for MI, who need three wins from six matches, but another defeat would see them slip into a crisis.

On many occasions in the past, MI have extricated themselves from a hole through single-mindedness. But why leave it that late?

Ayaz Memon is an Indian sports writer and commentator

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