The tactical faults that shaped the Western derby

Tactical errors are part and parcel of a cricketer’s job. Players make hundreds of decisions on the field and are bound to get a few wrong. While some misjudgements have little to no impact on the complexion of a game, others are too rash in nature and end up defining the course of the match. The Western derby between Mumbai Indians and Rajasthan Royals, which saw the five-time champions open their account at last, hinged on two such events.

15 overs into the RR innings, Jos Buttler was going at under a run a ball. When the man who’s rocking the Orange Cap labours to a 43-ball 46, you know the pitch doesn’t encourage batting. It had been two-paced, spongy and sticky right from the beginning. Kumar Kartikeya Singh had bowled four overs on the trot to return 19/1 on IPL debut, with the stranglehold so claustrophobic that RR had gone 29 balls without a boundary. Buttler was itching to break free and vented out his frustration on Hritik Shokeen’s off-spin, hitting the young lad for four sixes off his first four balls.

Shokeen came round the wicket in a desperate bid to escape punishment and fired a couple of wide darters, the latter taking the toe end of Buttler’s bat as long-off settled underneath. It was a misjudgement on captain Rohit Sharma’s part to throw the ball to a fingerspinner who’s wet behind his ears, but Buttler should’ve exhibited better cricketing sense as well after having ransacked 24 runs off the over already. He lost his wicket in going for the jugular and left the last four overs to batters who were sure to struggle on a wicket that wasn’t the easiest to deal with.

That Rajasthan could muster up 32 runs in the final four was thanks largely to an enterprising cameo from R Ashwin, who ramped a bouncer over the keeper’s head and proceeded to penalize Riley Meredith for bowling in the slot. However, Shimron Hetmyer couldn’t get the ball off the square and drudged to 6 off 14 balls, his ordeal at the crease highlighting the importance of a well-set batter staying there till the end.

Losing skipper Sanju Samson acknowledged that his team were a few runs short. ”We could have scored few more runs. Batting first here was tough as it was two-paced. Few more runs with the bat would have helped.”

Buttler, armed with a thorough understanding of the pitch’s behaviour and having grown in confidence after those four lusty blows, could’ve scored the extra runs at the back end had he not been too greedy in Shokeen’s game-changing over.

Another instance where cricketing sense was compromised was when Samson gave Daryl Mitchell a go despite having MI under the gun at 41/2 after the PowerPlay. RR’s move to try and pinch an over of the part-timer backfired terribly as Suryakumar Yadav and Tilak Varma amassed 20 runs to release the pressure in one go. Verma’s exquisite lofted off-drive that fetched MI a six accompanied the three boundaries in the over which gave a nice headstart to a partnership worth 81 runs off 56 balls.

Samson had the likes of Kuldeep Sen and Yuzvendra Chahal to turn to for that 7th over but took a lousy call that, in hindsight, facilitated MI’s maiden victory of the season. They did get off the mark but it wasn’t a smooth-sailing ride to the finish line as both Yadav and Varma threw their wickets away to add some unnecessary spice to the contest when the equation was down to 37 off 31. The dismissals to glory shots were, perhaps, fitting for an encounter that had its fair share of tactical slip-ups.