KL Rahul makes Mumbai Indians pay for their diminishing returns in sticky Chennai

Rohit Sharma hit his first fifty of this year’s IPL but the sticky dog at Chennai again refused to play ball and help Mumbai’s attempts to set any sort of imposing total. In fact the pitches here are providing diminishing returns for the champions, who have batted first in the five games they have played and on each occasion scored fewer, this time succumbing to a third defeat of the season as Punjab Kings got home by nine wickets with 14 balls to spare.

Even though the margin of victory looked comfortable, KL Rahul and Chris Gayle had to rein in their attacking instincts to some extent to steer them to that win; it seems even a long-in-the-tooth canine such as the Universe Boss can learn the odd new trick.

Mumbai’s returns on this ground this season have shrunk gradually from 159 to 152 to 150 to 137 until today’s thoroughly dispiriting 131 for six – after which Ben Stokes, in a tweet, suggested that such scores are not a great look for a tournament that prides itself on being a shotmaking extravaganza. Such is their experience in the art of winning, though, that Mumbai have often overcome such difficulties but they were unable to do so today and the difference in powerplays tells something of the story.

Punjab’s 45 without loss in those first six overs was in stark contrast to Mumbai, who lost Quinton de Kock early on and only made it to 21 for one at the same stage after Rahul sprang a surprise with an opening attack comprising the off spin of Deepak Hooda and the slow medium of Moises Henriques.

De Kock struck Hooda to mid-on, and the lack of pace proved an even greater challenge to Ishan Kishan, who spent 17 frustrating deliveries reaching six. Ishan now has only 73 runs from five knocks and the rapturous applause that greeted him on his T20I debut against England not so long ago has become more of the polite variety.

Ravi Bishnoi put him out of his misery, Ishan caught behind as he tried to cut the leg spinner, bowling his first over of his 2021 campaign. The 20-year-old went on to finish with two for 21 as only Rohit made any sort of real impression, although the bigger impression is of a man bereft of his usual elegance, worn down by these pitches and, perhaps, infecting his own team with the hangdog expression that seems to be regularly adorning his face.

Nonetheless, with Suryakuma Yadav, he pushed on to 105 for the third wicket, Fabian Allen and Arshdeep Singh on the receiving end of the best they could manage. Suryakumar offered a simple catch to Gayle at short third man from a reverse sweep, but by then we were already into the 17th over. Rohit flicked Mohammed Shami to Allen in the deep at square leg in the 18th and the percussive middle order of Keiron Pollard and the Pandya brothers failed to pound.

By contrast, Mayank Agarwal and Rahul came out all drums blazing. The captain struck Krunal Pandya’s left-arm spin to the cover and then the mid-wicket boundaries in successive balls and Agarwal followed up with a massive six over extra.

Rahul Chahar took the wicket of Agarwal in his first over – the eighth – but by then Punjab were past 50 at nearly eight an over. Gayle can be a little slow off the mark these days and it took him 13 balls to find the boundary, having scored only three to that point, but by putting themselves ahead of the rate early on Punjab were able to absorb dot balls from the likes of Chahar and Jayant Yadav, who both finished with impressively economical figures.

Rahul, who finished unbeaten on 60, refused to allow himself to celebrate too much after such a convincing win over the five-time title winners. “We don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves, we’re slowly coming together as a team,” he said. “I said this after the first game as well [when they beat Rajasthan by four runs], we’re a young team. We add new names every year and we’ve to be patient. Hooda has been playing really well, Shahrukh’s taken his opportunities, and Bishnoi today.”

Rohit admitted his team were 20 or more runs light. “I still feel it’s not a bad wicket to bat on. You can see how Kings won with nine wickets in hand,” he said. “If you get 150-160 you’re always in the game and that is something we’ve failed [to do] in the last two games. Ishan was trying to hit but couldn’t get it – even myself. In the last four games we really batted well in the powerplay but today we failed to do so.”

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