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.