Eoin Morgan’s wholesale transfer of the England white-ball philosophy to the red- and black-soiled fields of India has had its good days and its bad days. This was one of its bad days – the Knight Riders fell 10 runs short – although it started out pretty good [sic].
From the position they were in, they should have walked this game, ending a run that had extended to nine defeats from ten games against Mumbai. That they didn’t was largely down to Morgan’s fixation on “fearless cricket” and his conviction that this way will win you more than you lose.
Those who followed England’s limited-overs series in India at the end of sobering Test combat, will remember in particular the first ODI, when the tourists, chasing 318 to win, were Jason Roy- and Jonny Bairstow-powered to 135 for the first wicket in 14.2 overs. The following nine wickets fell for 114, leaving the best part of eight overs unused, as England continued to push for quick runs despite needing only a little over a run a ball to win.
Afterwards, to the dismay of traditionalists and delight of data specialists, Morgan was unapologetic, reasoning that this approach had won England a World Cup, taken them to No 1 in the world and, in stark contrast to many seasons prior to 2015, made them an unpredictable joy to watch.
To disagree with his point of view was seen as churlish, though, when the game plan worked perfectly a few days later and England levelled that ODI series, chasing a bigger total down with six overs to spare.
This match against Mumbai unfolded like the first of those ODIs in microcosm. Again chasing, this time a score of 152 that appeared about 20 runs too light, the Knight Riders continued with a method that had served them well in the first match against the Sunrisers.
Then, Nitish Rana and Rahul Tripathi had shared in an enterprisingly attacking second-wicket stand of 93 before they were separated in the 15th over, both scoring fifties – at over 180 runs per hundred balls in the case of the latter.
In that game they were setting a target, but in Chennai today, faced with a relatively modest score, the question of whether they would adopt the same outlook was one for eager debate during the mid-innings break.
It seemed they would. Rana and Shubman Gill romped to 45 without loss in the powerplay and took their partnership to 72 in the ninth when Gill, having already pulled one Rahul Chahar ball for four and lofted another for six down the ground, couldn’t resist one more big shot, but this time got too far underneath it and was caught by Kieron Pollard at long-off.
If that shot seemed inadvisable, Trapathi indicated that there would be no change of plan as he aimed an expansive sweep at his first ball and watched his top edge fall only a metre or two short of Trent Boult racing in from the midwicket boundary.
This time he did not last long anyway as he misread the length of a beautifully-flighted Chahar leg break, venturing forward before doubling back and edging a turning delivery into the grateful hands of Quinton de Kock behind the stumps.
But there was still plenty of batting to come and indeed Morgan, who has not been in great form in the T20 format of late, settled in with a couple of fluid cuts and an upper cut for four off Bumrah that took the faintest of kisses off his upturned bat-face as he positioned it like a waiter balancing a silver platter above his shoulder.
Bumrah had been brought back for the 12th over as Mumbai captain Rohit Sharma quite reasonably figured that wickets were the only thing that was going to win him this game but it was Chahar who struck next as Morgan reached forward and rather needlessly slog swept the ball into the hands of Marco Jansen at deep square leg. Rana eased to his fifty from 40 balls but with 30 required from just over five overs he inexplicably walked down the wicket, wafted half-heartedly at the final delivery of Chahar’s spell and was stumped by yards.
With his leg spinner walking away with four for 27 to his name, Rohit reasoned that it might be worth having a twirl himself – he once took an IPL hat-trick when with Deccan Chargers and against Mumbai to boot – leading to an entertaining interlude in which he come down awkwardly on his front angle as he prepared to bowl his first delivery and spent the next five minutes with his sock off and the magic spray being liberally applied.
It wasn’t a resounding success as he went for nine when he had recovered but he had seen that the ball was sticking enough in the pitch to call up the slow left-arm of Krunal Pandya again. That proved a masterstroke as Shakib Al Hasan, again for no apparent reason, got under a sweep and was caught on the boundary – although credit the bowler, who delivered the ball from behind the bowling crease, perhaps fooling the Bangladeshi.
Two wickets had gone down at 122 but if you’re going to muscle your way to victory, there’s no one you’d rather have pumping the heaviest weights than Andre Russell. But the Jamaican was strangely subdued. As the dot balls mounted, and as Bumrah operated superbly with widish full deliveries just inside the margins of legal, Russell and Dinesh Karthik found their power betraying them.
Suddenly they needed 19 off two overs and 15 off the last and Mumbai, who had been on the brink of a second successive defeat, scented blood: Trent Boult took responsibility for the final over, took a return catch from Russell and blew out Pat Cummins off stump with one right in the blockhole. It was over: the points were Mumbai’s.
At least there was a hint of humility in Morgan’s post-match interview when he was questioned about his philosophy of all-out attack: “I think the perfect game is to be able to do both and we’ve managed to do neither in the end,” he admitted. “It works for us a majority of the time, but we need to be better.”
Earlier, though, his tactical brain had been firing on all cylinders as he gambled with a powerplay largely of spin, rotating Harbhajan Singh, Varun Chakaravarthy – who claimed the early scalp of Quinton de Kock – and Shakib before turning to the velocity of Cummins for the sixth.
Deprived of pace, it wasn’t the pulsating start Mumbai had envisaged but they still advanced to 86 for one midway through the 11th over – mainly on the back of a scintillating fifty from Suryakumar Yadav, who plundered Prasidh Krishna for 16 off his first over, the pick of his strokes one of his very own making – a pirouette from outside off stump followed by the meatiest of clips that sent the ball soaring 99 metres over square leg.
When Rohit fell not long afterwards, chopping on to Cummins, he had faced only 32 of the 92 balls on offer, though whether he was starved of the strike by accident, design or poor rotation of the strike, remained unclear.
The kind of stagnation that was to later stifle the back end of Kolkata’s innings first impeded Mumbai as Ishan Kishan and the three musketeers of the Mumbai middle order – Pollard and the brothers Pandya – found their gunpowder dampened by an unlikely source: the brisk medium pace of Russell.
Brought on for only the 18th and 20th overs, he took five for 15, including three from four balls in the second of these, as Mumbai’s desperation enabled him to profit from the hard work of others earlier, particularly Cummins, who had returned an impressive two for 24 in the middle overs.
Jingle by Men With Ven