IPL 2021: Mumbai Indians’ famed batting line-up fail to adapt to Chennai’s slow pitches

IPL 2021: Mumbai Indians’ famed batting line-up fail to adapt to Chennai’s slow pitches

Mumbai Indians have a superb record against Chennai Super Kings on their usual annual trip to Chepauk. After three losses and two narrow wins this Indian Premier League season, though, their batsmen will be glad to get away from the slow and sticky pitch of the MA Chidambaram Stadium to their next leg in Delhi. Conditions have been vastly different from what they are used to at Wankhede Stadium, and even from what they encountered at their ‘home’ base of Abu Dhabi in the UAE last season.

Not once in their five matches in Chennai did the defending champions go past 160. You would think that having batted first all five times, they would have worked out how to post an optimum score on the tricky surfaces at the ground. However, they failed to reach even 140 in their last two games.

At the toss yesterday, skipper Rohit Sharma said that after having batted first in every match so far, MI had figured out how to bat as a group. What followed was not quite what Rohit had expected.

MI do not like to experiment much with their personnel and prefer to go through an entire season with more or less the same set of resources. They only make the odd allowance if they feel conditions or match-ups really demand it. With their emphasis on data and planning, though, they are open to trying different things tactically. They did try to bat a bit differently yesterday against Punjab Kings, only to find themselves in deeper trouble.

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Their Powerplay scores before this match had been 41/1, 42/1, 53/0 and 55/1. They had seen batting could get harder as the ball got older and had tried to capitalise upfront. Yesterday, though, they scraped a mere 21/1 off the first six overs. Partly that was due to Punjab Kings’ clever use of Moises Henriques’ medium pace and the part-time off-spin of Deepak Hooda.

Mumbai Indians' Kieron Pollard in action against Punjab Kings. Sportzpics

Mumbai Indians’ Kieron Pollard in action against Punjab Kings. Sportzpics

Usually, it is MI resorting to the match-up of Jayant Yadav’s off-spin against a key opposition left-hander. Here, Hooda was able to remove Quinton de Kock in his very first over, charging and mishitting to mid-on. The South African thrives on the ball coming on nicely at good height at Wankhede; his dismissals in Chennai, trying to force a big hit against the lack of pace, have been similar. Against Kolkata Knight Riders too, he had mishit another spinner – Varun Chakravarthy – to mid-on early in his innings.

Apart from the difficulties the Punjab Kings’ attack posed, MI also seemed to be trying to play themselves in. KL Rahul had similar thoughts after choosing to bat first against Sunrisers Hyderabad two nights earlier and ending at an insignificant 120 in trying to aim too high. He promptly asked Rohit to bat first this time. The MI captain felt 150 would have kept his side in the game, and that is probably what he and Suryakumar Yadav had in mind during their 79-run stand, but they were to fall well short, at 131.

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It hasn’t helped that their only two batsmen in some form have fallen at crucial moments, like yesterday when Suryakumar departed in the 17th and Rohit in the 18th.

The rest of the famed batting line-up has been almost non-existent. Ishan Kishan has earned himself an extended run after his spectacular hitting last season, but a strike-rate of 82.95 is almost beyond belief. He got four overs in the Powerplay yesterday, coming in at de Kock’s exit; MI sent Kishan ahead of Suryakumar as a left-hander would replace a left-hander and also because they wanted the latter to tackle spin in the middle overs. Kishan barely managed to get the ball off the square during his 17-ball 6.

As all batsmen like to say – Suryakumar also did yesterday – it is a matter of that one innings, but in Kishan’s case, maybe it is better to not be playing any innings for some time.

The hitting trio of Kieron Pollard and Hardik and Krunal Pandya are striking at 116.07, 97.29 and 107.40. The unavailability of any pace to work with in Chennai has been most obvious in the case of Hardik, who has kept falling to slower ones and hard-length deliveries, right from the moment he missed a slow full toss from Harshal Patel in the tournament opener against Royal Challengers Bangalore. He missed a full toss from Arshdeep Singh as well yesterday, and could only smile and shake his head at his lack of touch before getting out to yet another slower ball.

Hardik is one of the premier T20 hitters in the world; MI also have the bowling attack to be able to play Hardik as a specialist batsman, but no team can afford to have all its hitters struggling at the same time.

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All of them love pace on the ball, and the smaller dimensions and better batting conditions at Wankhede allow them more freedom to swing their arms. Every side, after all, is built to largely take advantage of home conditions. But home advantage is not available this season.

The difference in conditions has been stark in MI’s case in the first leg, and their batsmen have struggled to adapt. Delhi will also be an interesting venue, in that it can often dish out surfaces similar to Chennai in type, if not in magnitude. MI are not five-time IPL champions for nothing, of course. However, whatever tactical insights the thinktank can come up with, it is the batsmen in the middle who will have to, sooner than later, improve their execution.

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