What Kolkata did right, and Mumbai didn’t

The beauty of cricket, or sport in general, lies in the fact that the pendulum tends to oscillate, keeping the loyalists of both teams hooked before settling on either side. The volatility of momentum is governed by the sheer thrust of tactical nous, and a slip-up could render you a loser in the tug of war. T20 cricket, in particular, behaves miserly when it comes to doling out room for error. Captains can ill-afford to put a foot wrong as a strategic blunder often proves to be the elixir the opposition yearns for to bring itself back from the dead.

Chennai Super Kings didn’t have any happy memories of the UAE as they took the field against Mumbai Indians on Sunday to get the IPL’s project resumption off the ground. The venue had consigned MS Dhoni and his troops to their worst ever campaign as they failed to qualify for the playoffs last season, escaping the ignominy of hitting rock bottom in the points table by a whisker. The ghosts of the past returned to haunt CSK this weekend, with the sluggish nature of the Dubai track and Mumbai’s new-ball merchants entwining to reduce them to 24/4 inside the PowerPlay. It was a pole position that should have inspired MI to be ruthless in attack and strive for an absolute blowout of the rival gang, but also a springboard of success capable of launching them into a false sense of security. Kieron Pollard, the stand-in skipper, was lulled into the latter.

The strike bowlers who had pinned CSK on the mat were given a breather at an inopportune juncture. Spinners Rahul Chahar and Krunal Pandya shared the middle-over duties between them as MI squandered what was a golden chance to nip the evil in the bud. Opener Ruturaj Gaikwad and Ravindra Jadeja, the beneficiaries of the benevolence, milked ones and twos to stitch an 81-run partnership which not only kept CSK’s head above water but also ensured a beachhead for the razzmatazz of fireworks at the death. 71 runs were gifted away between overs 8-16 before a well-set Ruturaj tore apart Trent Boult, pilfering 24 off the 19th over to leave the left-arm spearhead with his most expensive over in T20 cricket. CSK mustered up a respectable 156 that was good enough to fetch a win, and it seemed like Kolkata Knight Riders skipper Eoin Morgan was jotting down mental notes. For, a wise man learns from other’s mistakes.

KKR had netted the big fish, Virat Kohli, and Devdutt Padikkal early after being asked to bowl first by Royal Challengers Bangalore at Abu Dhabi, a ground where run-fests are as scarce as a hen’s teeth. Morgan didn’t go on the defensive unlike his Caribbean counterpart, and persisted with his wreckers-in-chief in a bid to inflict further harm. Andre Russell drew KS Bharat’s jittery presence to a close while taking AB de Villiers out of the equation with a thunderbolt of a yorker. By assigning the speedsters to the fore around the halfway mark, KKR were hitting RCB where it hurt as they averaged a dull 7.1 through the middle overs in the Indian leg of IPL 2021, next best only to last-placed Sunrisers Hyderabad.

The pressure now bubbling like popcorn in a cooker as RCB sauntered to 54/4 in 10 overs, Morgan eased mystery spinner Varun Chakravarthy into the fold. He coerced Glenn Maxwell into an agricultural hoick to strike his timber for an anxious 17-ball 10. Debutant Wanindu Hasaranga bagged a golden duck and Sachin Baby too caved in to the furious stranglehold as Chakravarthy engineered a spell of 3 for 13, comprising 15 dots. Thanks to Morgan’s astute decision-making, KKR made sure the foot was jammed on the adversary’s throat and there were no loopholes for them to wiggle their way out of trouble.

The squeeze was so suffocating that RCB went 54 deliveries without a boundary between 5.1 and 14.3 overs and ended up huffing and puffing to 92, their fifth-lowest total, mopped up nonchalantly by Shubman Gill and Venkatesh Iyer. Kohli emphasized the melting point in the post-match presser after his franchise slumped to their sixth successive defeat in the UAE, ”We were 42-odd for one (41-0) and then lost about five wickets within 20 runs from there, which is a very difficult situation to come back from.”

KKR have a tough road ahead as candidacy for the eliminators can be filed only if they manage to win five out of the remaining six games, but they’ve already laid a fine blueprint for the other franchises jostling for space in the top four. A job half done is as good as none.