Saturday, May 2, 2009

Hasselhoffs redux

Another game against KKR, another win. Four in a row, woohoo! Way to go, etc. etc. I could chirrup about what a great team Mumbai are, how they have a chance to go top of the table, how they deserve to be top of the table, but I won't. I don't actually believe that is true.

Call me cynical, call me too demanding as a fan, but there are certain things that you expect of a Mumbai team, no matter what the competition. And this Mumbai team is not there yet. Last time around, I wanted a performance by the middle order, and promptly, to give them that opportunity, both Sachin and Sanath got out cheaply! Great chance for the middle order to prove itself. Instead, it just spluttered along, and it was really a one man show by Duminy. That we got to 148 was largely due to a sensible innings by him, holding up one end for most of the innings, and accelerating at the end.

Perhaps its time that we revisit our expectations when we bat. Last year, a score of 180 was the minimum you would target, batting first. In South Africa, the pitches have aided the bowlers a bit more, and 160 looks like a winning total. So far this season, only twice has a team successfully chased a total of 160+ in ten attempts. And in 18 attempts at chasing a score of 140+, teams have been successful 8 times, with one of them ending in a tie. I would rather Mumbai aim for 160 at the start and get there, rather than aim for 180 and end up at 140 or 150. With our bowling attack, 160 should be defendable.

The other lingering concern is the number of dot balls played. 39% of the balls faced were dot balls (if you exclude Duminy's innings, that number goes up to 46%). That in T20, is way too many. Even in fifty over cricket, that is a sign of a struggling team. Getting that number down to 20% is itself worth an extra 20 runs to the total. This clearly is another area that needs to be addressed soon. Teams better than KKR (yes, Mumbai are clearly not the best team even if they look like the best on paper) will definitely exploit this, would have probably even chased down the target of 149.

Mumbai are fast acquiring a reputation as chokers, and this is not unjustified. Out of the nine defeats they have suffered in the IPL so far, six could rightfully be classified as chokes. The victory against KKR was the closest win they have ever had, and hopefully the team has learnt something about winning close games.

That said, I still believe that Mumbai can go all the way, and are in fact, the best equipped team to do that. But for that, they need to iron out these chinks. There is still a lot of time to set this right, and I think they will only get better as the season goes along. I really don't mind these blips if it means that the team will start peaking towards the business end of the league.

Next game is against the Kingfishers, who are on a mini-run of their own. It should be a win for Mumbai, but like KKR showed, a little bit of complacency can come back to bite you. Especially this season, every team looks capable of defeating every other team (with the notable exception of KKR who would be relegation material if there were a division 2).

Just do the basic things right, rotate the strike more often, aim for a more sensible target. Aim to play atleast 25 balls. And for heaven's sake, Bhajji is a surprise option, not your regular number 3 batsman. Send Rahane at number 3, that's where he has scored most of his runs in domestic cricket. Or instead, if an early wicket falls, go with Napier. Thats all from me. Best of luck, lads!