Sunday, January 1, 2012

Ranji Season Review - Mumbai

Seven matches, three wins, four draws - two of them with the first innings lead. Top of the group. Most wins in the league phase of the tournament. Best run quotient of all the teams in the Elite League. The statistics certainly point to a very good tournament so far. But as usual, that is only half the picture.

It has truly been a schizophrenic season for Mumbai. When they were good, they were really good. Two crushing wins which got the team bonus points apart from a nine wicket win over Punjab in a truncated game bear testament to this fact. On the flip side, there were times when the team looked like they were sleep walking through games.


The batting performed admirably in the absence of Ajinkya Rahane, who was warming the benches of the national team for most of the season; and Sahil Kukreja, who retired at the end of last season to pursue an MBA. The runs came pretty consistently through all the matches, and there were no collapses in any of the matches. Different players stepped up at different moments and in the end, it was the batting that really ensured that Mumbai stayed ahead of the pack at the end of the league phase.

Abhishek Nayar and Rohit Sharma carried the team in the initial games with vital centuries against Railways and Rajasthan, while Wasim Jaffer, Hiken Shah and Sushant Marathe came good in the later games. Suryakumar Yadav was a surprise package with his aggressive batting. Scoring at a strike rate of nearly 90, he helped assert Mumbai's dominance in a couple of instances in a Gilchrist-like manner. Another positive was the emergence of Kaustubh Pawar, which went a long way in mitigating the absence of Kukreja.

The absence of a regular opener to partner Pawar is a handicap that can hurt the team in the knock-out matches where a strong opening partnership will be important. This makes Jaffer's demotion down the order even more puzzling. Pawar and Jaffer at the top, with Nayar, SK Yadav, Hiken Shah to follow makes it a more stable order, with the lower order batsmen more than capable of pitching in with runs, as seen through the performances of Iqbal Abdullah, Dhawal Kulkarni and Ramesh Powar.

The absence of Nayar from the clash against Madhya Pradesh due to a thumb fracture is a major blow given that he is the leading scorer so far this season. Still, you would expect Mumbai to have enough batting power to tide them over despite his absence.


The bowling has been more of a mixed bag this season. For one, off field controversies have dogged the team. Agarkar was dropped for the game against Orissa, and he has since made himself unavailable for the rest of the season. Despite all the jokes about him at international level, he has remained a massive performer at domestic level, and still has the skill levels to contribute to the Mumbai team. It is a situation that you feel could have been handled better.

One of the positives has been the emergence of Kshemal Waigankar and Balwinder Singh Sandhu Jnr to partner Dhawal Kulkarni and Avishkar Salvi in the pace attack. While Waingankar is a medium pace bowler at best, the performance of Sandhu against Punjab was very delightful, and has raised hopes of him being the next great Mumbai fast bowler.

Iqbal Abdullah continued on from his performances of last season to provide a vital attacking threat to complement the evergreen Ramesh Powar. He, however, will have to raise his game significantly if he is to start knocking on the doors of test cricket. This inconsistency in the bowling has been one of the main reasons of concern this season. In a situation not seen often, Mumbai conceded over 500 runs in an innings no fewer than three times.

Truly, this has been a blow-hot blow-cold season for them. In the games that Mumbai dominated - against Railways, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab - Mumbai conceeded only 24.1 runs per wicket, grabbing 70 wickets in the process. In the other games - against Rajasthan, Karnataka and Saurashtra - Mumbai conceeded 59.5 runs per wicket, grabbing only 33 wickets. This statistic alone tells the story of the season so far.

Clearly, a better and more consistent performance from the bowlers is required to win the title this season. However, the field for the knock-outs is weaker this season, with only Karnataka realistically expected to challenge for the title, despite the performances of Rajasthan last season. Mumbai face Madhya Pradesh in the quarters, and should go through, despite missing Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Nayar and Sushant Marathe. A seaming wicket is expected, given the performances of their pace attack of Sudhindra and Ishwar Pandey, who have taken 57 wickets between them this season, albeit in the Plate League. Still, with Kulkarni, Salvi, Sandhu and Waingankar to choose from, Mumbai should have little difficulty matching them in this department.

Expect a repeat of the 2009 final between Mumbai and Karnataka this season. Unless Mumbai fall prey to complacency, which was their undoing last year at the quarter final stage.

Monday, April 25, 2011

India always loses when Tendulkar scores a hundred

It has become something of a given. People are happy that Tendulkar did not score a hundred. Because we all know that if he does, India (or Mumbai) will definitely lose the game. Entire prayers were for the world cup were based around Tendulkar not scoring a hundred in the knock-out games. The sigh of relief when he was dismissed early in the final was heard all the way in Sri Lanka, who were probably wondering whether India were trying to be more than gracious hosts.

So, how true is it? Does India really lose every time Tendulkar scores a hundred?

A quick check reveals that of the 48 ODIs that Tendulkar has scored a hundred in, India have won 33 of them and lost 15, with one tie and one no result. That means India have only lost 27% of the games in which Tendulkar has scored a hundred, which is certainly not bad. In fact, starting 2007, Tendulkar has scored 8 hundreds, and India have won 5 and tied 1 of those, with a failure rate of 25%, so discernable difference there either.

In tests, the hypothesis makes even less sense. Of the 51 tests in which Tendulkar has scored a hundred, India have won 20, drawn 20 and lost 11. The failure rate here is only 22%. In the last 5 years, the failure rate from 16 tests falls to under 19% (8 wins and 5 draws). In fact, the highest this number has ever been is 32% in 1999. The success rate (for wins) was always in the tens and twenties in the 1990s, and since 2002, has steadily gone up to almost 40%.

So, how did this urban legend of India's loss being caused by Tendular's hundreds come about? Probably due to sheer numbers. Most people score as many centuries as Tendulkar does in losing causes. Plus, some epic centuries by him resulted in losses due to the brain dead batting of the players who followed. Such things tend to stick in the memory longer. And good old confirmatory bias probably plays a part as well.

Next time, do yourself and others a favour. Stop this India loses whenever Tendulkar scores a hundred nonsense and just enjoy the game.

Mumbai Indians season review so far

This season is shaping up similar to last season when Mumbai went on a winning spree in the league phase. And if anything, they look even stronger. The middle order is now scarily powerful after the addition of Andrew Symonds and Rohit Sharma (something that Ian Chappell, of all people, thought was injudicious spending, so thank fuck he's not the coach), and even the opening pair, which was pretty good last season, looks formidable with the addition of Davy Jacobs. The bowling hasn't changed at all from last season, except for the swap of Munaf Patel for Zaheer Khan, which really hasn't hurt us one bit, especially since Munaf has learnt to become a craftier bowler.

However, the one aspect where Mumbai are far ahead of other teams is fielding. The wall of a Symonds-Sharma-Pollard-Saty.hish offside cordon is a hard one to break on just about any day, to say nothing about their contribution in terms of some absolutely brilliant catches. Add to this improved fielding from other members, such as Malinga, who ordinarily is only a languid fielder, a genuine keeper in Jacobs and the reliable hands of Tendulkar and Harbhajan, and you can almost get away with having Munaf sit in a corner somewhere, out of harms way. To be faThe Ryir to him though, even Munaf has been making a bit of an effort with his ungainly slides. It only adds to the pressure.

And so, Mumbai have been generally winning games at a canter. They were only seriously troubled by Kochi, who were aided by a couple of brilliant innings from McCullum and Jayawardene. Even Chennai, who threatened to make a game of it, crumbled in the face of the best ever fielding performance seen in the IPL.

Some observations and rants at the Cricinfo types:

  1. There really is nothing left to be said about Tendulkar that isn't already a cliché, and even this is a cliché. So I am going to talk about Rohit Sharma, my second most favourite player on the team - I do have a soft spot for players from Mumbai. A lot of people were questioning his price tag of $2 million, but as he has shown in the previous editions, he is a very consistent performer, at least in the IPL. I always thought that Deccan made a huge mistake in letting him go, but it was just as well for Mumbai, who were keen on getting him for the past 2 years. I really hope he can use this season as a launching pad for more consistent performances at the national level. While his talent is in no doubt, he even showed a willingness to grit it out in the Ranji Trophy last year. Hopefully this is the start of greater things for him.

  2. Cricinfo's quick evaluation that Mumbai's attack is heavily dependent on Malinga after the Kochi defeat, and its equally quick retraction after the Chennai victory was really irritating. Obviously, when you have a bowler of Malinga's caliber, you look to him to provide the early breakthroughs and soften up the opposition. But it does not follow that the team is a one man attack when the bowling is taken apart. The Kochi bowling performance was really just an off day. Sure Malinga's absense would hurt, no doubt, but it doesn't mean that there are no other bowlers capable of taking wickets or stemming the flow of runs.

  3. Everyone and his uncle has been tagging Ali Murtaza as the team's weakest link. He probably is not assured of his place in every game, but I think that the tag is patently unfair to him. For one, he is playing ahead of players such as Dhaval Kulkarni and Abu Nechim (though Nechim did get a look in ahead of Murtaza against Chennai and Deccan). For another, the guy bowls with a lot of heart, and has generally gone about his job in a quiet manner, often opening the bowling. In fact, he is at his best (in terms of economy rate) when he is bowling in the powerplay overs, conceding only 5.33 RPO at this stage. Quite a valuable asset to have then. One aspect of his game he needs to improve on, though, is on how he tends to fall away in the fourth over of his spell, conceding 9.50 RPO, as against an RPO of 6.60 otherwise. He is, however, not a death bowler, which perhaps explains this oddity, as most of his fourth overs have come in the last 5 overs of an innings. Still, when Mumbai need a second spinner, they could do far worse than given Murtaza an extended run.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Brilliant start to the season - Delhi Daredevils match review

There is always a lot of anticipation if you are a Mumbai fan going into a game against Delhi. While the rivalry today is not as intense as it was back in the '80s, it does have a presence even today, especially in the Ranji Trophy. The IPL is slightly different, with few local players lining up on either side, but for ardent Mumbai fans, this is always a must win game.

The excitement leading up to the game this season, however, was not very high, even if there was a sense of anticipation for the first game of the season - mainly due to the relatively weak squad Delhi have assembled this season. Even so, the game was a bit of an anti-climax with Mumbai easily defeating Delhi to hand them one of their worst defeats in the IPL. On the form of this game, I expect Delhi to struggle to remain competitive against similarly tough opposition.

The pitch looked like it had a bit of movement in it, though it was puzzling why Delhi did not go for a green top given that they have eight fast/medium fast bowling options in their squad. Maybe they were worried about the damage Malinga could have caused on such a pitch. As it turned out, they need not have bothered as Malinga absolutely flattened the Delhi batting with unplayable yorker after yorker. Indeed, it was only at the very end that he even needed a fielder to help him get a wicket. Five for thirteen, a great performance. No wonder he is loved so much in Mumbai.

Delhi were also not helped by some indecisive running, and Sehwag's run-out due to a brilliant direct hit by Tendulkar really knocked the stuffing out of them, as the rest of the batsmen hardly ever put up a fight. Naman Ojha and Venugopal Rao managed a brief recovery, but they were never allowed to run away with it with some good bowling by Murtuza accounting for Ojha, before Malinga came back to flatten the tail.

A target of 96 was never really going to threaten Mumbai. Delhi's bowlers worked up a lovely pace in response, with Ashok Dinda and Umesh Yadav surprising everyone by regularly touching the 140 mark. Even Irfan Pathan managed to get a smooth action going. Davy Jacobs came in with a lot of expectations at the top of the order, but he was beaten by a lovely ball from Morne Morkel who got one to nip away ever so slightly.

The small target afforded Mumbai the luxury of starting slowly. Tendulkar started scratchily with a few edges and a dropped chance at widish first slip. Though Rayadu also perished early, being run-out by a brilliant bit of fielding by Roelof van der Merwe, Tendulkar and Rohit Sharma ensured that there would be no hiccups in the chase. Rohit was very lucky early on, when umpire Saheba adjudged him not out to an Irfan Pathan delivery that looked like it pitched on, hit him in front of and was hitting the leg stump. However, he soon managed to get into the groove, and much as Tendulkar later remarked, he showed his talent by playing some lovely shots, including three fours in an over against Morkel. Tendulkar managed to step up the pace late on as well, and he even hit a six against van der Merwe. Sign of his approach to this season after a largely risk free batting performance last season?

So, while the victory does feel great, and Mumbai look like strong contenders for the title this season, the effects of a longish season of cricket need to be seen, even if that is true for all teams. Tougher opposition awaits, with Royal Challengers Bangalore the next hurdle. Of the two groups, Mumbai are in the easier one, with Delhi and Kings XI Punjab looking like whipping boys of the group, and they really should finish in the top two and make the newly designed play-offs at the semi-final stage.

Man of the match: Lasith Malinga (3.4-1-13-5)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The best crowd in the country?

This is from cricinfo:
The fans at the Chinnaswamy Stadium have been loud and proud, and backed their team with real passion. At the Brabourne, they ratchet up the volume even more though. The chants of "Sachin, Sachin" can drive you to earplugs, and Malinga will surely not have enjoyed such backing in Colombo. Even with Bangalore cruising to victory, the crowd never lost its buzz and even the late and irrelevant run-out of Virat Kohli was celebrated fervently. On the way home, I saw at least five cabs with Mumbai Indians' flags being waved out of the window. The club culture is certainly taking root.

I have written previously the Mumbai crowd previously. We have seen that fans from Kolkata can be the most passionate in the country. But they are also notorious for turning on the home team when things don't go well. I haven't seen fans of other franchises being as passionate about their team. If there is one team that can count on its fans to act as a catalyst, it is Mumbai Indians.

We are Mumbaikars, and we are proud of it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Is this really an upset?

After a couple of underwhelming seasons, Mumbai Indians are top of the IPL points table for the first time ever in their short history. Its a good feeling to have, more so given the form the team is in judging by the two games they have played so far.

Mumbai against Delhi is always the biggest game of the league season for both teams in the Ranji Trophy. That intense rivalry hasn't quite transported itself into the IPL, but the anticipation still remains. The only win that Mumbai had over Delhi in first two seasons of the IPL was at home in 2008, pushed through the finish line with the crowd acting as a very real twelfth man. In the lead up to the game, Gambhir called for the crowd to get behind Delhi, but as with most Mumbai games, the crowd cheered Tendulkar more than the local team. Can be frustrating, I imagine, if you play for Delhi Daredevils.

The big news ahead of this game was the availability of Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard, and they replaced Ryan McLaren and Ali Murtaza, both of whom had poor games against Rajasthan. Sanath Jayasuriya retained his place, ahead of JP Duminy, who looks like he hasn't yet recovered from his injury. No place yet for Abhishek Nayar and Dhaval Kulkarni, but looking at the team composition, it is hard to see who they can replace. Perhaps Nayar coming in for Sathish is an option, but given Sathish's electric presence in the field, that is unlikely to happen.

The batting has been really good in the first two games. Tendulkar has carried over his form from ODIs into this tournament, and he has managed to set the tempo for the rest of the team. Jayasuriya doesn't quite look out of sorts when batting, but you can sense that age has caught up with him. He might still be good for a few runs this season, but you have to think that Duminy will be more consistent.

Aditya Tare as wicket-keeper looks like a huge improvement over Pinal Shah and Yogesh Takawale. The guy can bat, even if it is in cameos at present, and his keeping skills are notch above what we have had so far. Given that he is a local lad, he gets my thumbs up.

Where Mumbai suffered in their previous two seasons was the lack of good performances from the Indian players in the middle order, with the exception of Nayar. With Saurabh Tiwary and Ambati Rayadu in the middle order, this is now our biggest strength this season. I wasn't sure about Tiwary in previous seasons, but he has been superb so far this season. With Rayadu, it was always a question of temparament, rather than talent, and while it is too early to call, the initial signs are promising. Signing him up along with Sathish was one of the smartest moves made by Mumbai this season. Now suddenly, we have a middle order that reads Tiwary, Rayadu, Bravo, Pollard and Sathish, with Bhajji and Zak to follow, in addition to having Duminy, Nayar and Shikhar Dhawan on the bench. As formidable as we can hope for.

Too often, in the previous seasons, we had Bravo or Duminy throwing away good positions with daft dismissals or failing to provide the acceleration that was needed. Part of the reason for that was the lack of back-up, but that looks to have been rectified this season, on evidence of how Tiwary and Rayadu have managed to power Mumbai to huge totals so far. Plus, keeping back Bravo gives the team the advantage of having a finisher along with Pollard.

Bowling was not a huge worry in the first two seasons, even if the team was prone to brain freezes in close games. However, the team looks far more potent this season than it ever did. Zak and Malinga are on form, with Bravo and Pollard as back-up seamers with their clever variations. Add Bhajji and Jayasuriya/Duminy into the mix, and you have a bowling attack that looks very good on paper.

Mumbai have thoroughly outplayed their opponents in both games so far, notwithstanding Yusuf Pathan's audacious innings. Take him out, and the rest of the Rajasthan team barely put up a fight. Having 200+ totals to defend certainly must have an effect on our bowling performance, but the way in which the top order was taken out of the equation in both games augurs well for the remaining games this season.

Which brings me to the premise of the title. Cricinfo called this result an upset, but is it really so? Granted that Delhi were the form team going into this team, while Mumbai have been light weights so far this season. But when you have a line-up that has regular batsmen all the way down to number eight with a couple of biffers to follow, and a really varied bowling attack that can be chokingly accurate on its day, was it such a mismatch leading into the game that this result can be termed an upset? I have the advantage of hindsight here, but a 98 run win in this form of the game shows that Mumbai are as good as Delhi, if not better, this season.

Indeed, the team looks really formidable now. Just before the IPL started, I figured Mumbai will be one of the teams in the semi-finals, but now, I will change that assessment. I will consider it to a huge upset if Mumbai do not make the semi-finals. What remains to be seen is how the team reacts in close games. The first couple of seasons, Mumbai fumbled close finishes to rival Ishant Sharma collecting throws to run out batsmen. They did well to keep out Yusuf Pathan and Rajasthan in the first game, but sterner tests will be ahead.