‘’Felt like from our team only Rashid turned up,’’ Hardik Pandya said matter-of-factly. At a venue notorious for violence against bowlers, the Afghan superstar walked away with 4/30. Mumbai Indians ransacked 188 off the other 96 balls, and cornered Gujarat Titans to 100/6 after a dozen overs. Rashid Khan spared the table-toppers’ blushes by walloping ten sixes, with each passing hit alleviating the margin of defeat, much to the chagrin of Rohit Sharma and his resurgent troops.
It was the fourth instance of a player accomplishing the double of four wickets and a fifty in IPL and still ending up on the wrong side of the result. Yuvraj Singh was the protagonist in two such losing causes, while the all-round excellence of Mitchell Marsh went down the drain a fortnight ago. Performances that do not translate into victory for the team leave individuals feeling bittersweet, perhaps more so in Rashid’s case given the junctures at which he delivered both with the bat and ball.
Rohit had failed to cross double-digits in his last five innings, so working his way to form could’ve been a reasonable plan of action. However, hosting the western derby was Wankhede, where anything less than 200 qualifies as below-par. Teeing off right away was imperative, and Rohit led by example, well aware that personal passiveness would be to the detriment of the team. 50 was up on the board in just 29 balls, and Hardik turned to Rashid in the penultimate over of the PowerPlay, having grasped the futility of feeding pace.
Of late, batting units have taken a safety-first approach when facing Rashid, preferring to see out his quota and target the rest. This reluctance to attack allows him to bowl his regulation delivery – zeroing on a good length, flat trajectory, attacking the stumps – over and over again. However, the ground-specific pressure of posting a total in excess of 200 denies franchises the scope of keeping Rashid at bay.
Mumbai Indians went on the offensive, with Ishan Kishan giving him the charge on his very first ball and Rohit sweeping as if by compulsion, even fetching a boundary in the process. The change in approach by the opponent gave Rashid room to play around, and out came the revered bag of tricks.
Rohit’s sweep has traditionally been a coping mechanism for his inability to differentiate the googly from a leg-break. When a batter isn’t picking the variation out of the hand, a horizontal-bat shot, like a sweep or a reverse sweep, becomes a logical option as it not only smothers the turn but also offers a wider second line of defence. Rohit’s obsession with premeditated sweeps made Rashid unfurl the leg-break, his stock ball, which straightened with the angle to draw an edge. A feature of Hardik Pandya’s captaincy is he encourages the pursuit of wickets, commending his bowlers when they get taken for runs off a ball delivered with the intention to strike and arming the spearheads with a slip even as runs flow. Rahul Tewatia was safe as houses, cutting short a burgeoning knock that promised an awful lot.
Rashid’s mode of operation is bowling into the pitch and getting the ball to skid. He is quick through the crease, employs a fast arm action and has an average bowling speed of 92kmph – five yards zippier than the mean for leg-spinners – all of which besides making his change-ups deceptive make him a difficult customer to sweep. He is also the epitome of accuracy, so cross-batted strokes are attempted at one’s own peril, as Kishan found out three balls later after losing his captain.
He dealt in boundaries against Noor Ahmed, who was routinely erring on the fuller zone. The shot selection drew plaudits from the commentators as Kishan got underneath half-volleys to clear the infield. It was percentage cricket at its optimal best. He was just reacting to the ball rather than trying to force the issue, but he didn’t quite play Rashid on merit, picking a delivery too full to sweep.
Once Nehal Wadhera chopped on to give Rashid his third scalp in as many overs, a period of calm ensued. The triple whammy pushed Mumbai Indians on the backfoot psychologically, but considering the firepower they possess it was only a matter of time before they exploded again. By the point Rashid came on to bowl his final over that Hardik had preserved with an eye on his match-up Tim David, Suryakumar Yadav and Vishnu Vinod had peeled off 32 runs in 10 balls between overs 12-14. The debutant for Mumbai Indians ensured the world was talking about him with a brute of a shot. He backed away to a length ball and clattered Shami over cover, the frenetic bat speed and eventual whip of the wrists orchestrating the crown jewel.
Rashid managed to elicit a return catch from David, but even he couldn’t keep a tab on the freewheeling centurion. Suryakumar collected a healthy 17 off the 10 balls faced from Rashid en route his maiden IPL hundred. The way he maneuvers the field was perfectly exemplified in a three-ball window at the death when sweeper cover was brought in to accommodate deep backward square after Suryakumar, rather astonishingly, generated enough power to sweep a slower ball for six. He lofted the next ball into the vacant cover region, collecting a brace. But since the man at deep point was able to run around and tidy up, he now waited on the ball and slashed finer to beat the boundary rider to his left. 54 runs were hammered off the last three overs as pace merchants Shami and Joseph leaked 105 in their 8 overs combined.
Along expected lines, Wankhede proved to be hell for bowlers across the board. That Rashid Khan marched out unscathed is an ode to the quality of his craft.