Incisive Mustafizur Rahman clips RCB’s formidable wings

Tushar Deshpande had a bittersweet IPL 2023, proving to be an expensive wicket-taker. He was Chennai Super Kings’ most successful bowler with 21 scalps, but during the victorious campaign he gave away 564 runs, the highest for a season in the history of the league.

Fixing his economy would have been high on the agenda as Tushar stood at the top of his mark in Chepauk. His first crack at the new season didn’t quite go as envisaged, with Faf du Plessis tucking the ball mellifluously around the corner for a boundary. He hit six more in his next 16 balls to put Ruturaj Gaikwad, wet behind his ears as an IPL captain, under pressure straightaway.

Du Plessis transformed himself into a PowerPlay enforcer last season. His strike rate in the first six overs improved from 104.68 in 2022 to 168.5 in 2023. Even though Gaikwad was under MS Dhoni’s stewardship, it seemed to be a baptism by fire as Royal Challengers Bengaluru flew unscathed to 37 in 4 overs.

Deepak Chahar rocked up cold, having not played a competitive game in three months. Even as du Plessis camped on the backfoot, he kept feeding length to concede 17 in an over. An IPL behemoth stood at the other end in Virat Kohli, so in the absence of a breakthrough RCB could well have run away with the game. Enter Mustafizur Rahman, nicknamed Fizz for his ability to produce whippy, bamboozling cutters.

With 91 T20Is, 48 IPL matches and 41 Bangladesh Premier League fixtures under his belt, Mustafizur is no spring chicken when it comes to reading batters in the shortest format. Moreover, one of the sharpest cricket brains was behind the sticks. In all probability, CSK were able to identify that du Plessis is staying beside the line of the ball in order to access the off-side, as he did thrice off Chahar, taking the aerial route on each occasion. Stationing a deep backward point instead of the traditional third man, Mustafizur endeavored to beat du Plessis at his own game.

Coming from over the wicket as a means to exaggerate the angle for the right-hander, he served a length ball first up which du Plessis duly clobbered to the fence. The boundary may not have bothered him too much because it was part of the set-up. The opener’s frontfoot was drastically outside the leg-stump at the point of contact, solidifying Mustafizur’s hypothesis that a wide full-length tempter can find the toe end of his bat because reaching out for the ball would be a tough ask given the exaggerated open-chested position he was getting into.

The follow-up delivery was comparatively fuller, wider and slower, predictably eliciting a miscue from du Plessis as Rachin Ravindra, placed in particular for the off-balanced slash, judged the catch smartly in the deep. It was an extremely timely breakthrough which cut short a 41-run opening stand that had du Plessis contributing 35 on the back of eight assertive boundaries.

At times in his career Mustafizur has been guilty of overcooking the slower variation, so much so that he becomes predictable. While his stock ball does account for most of his wickets, the left-armer is very much capable of posing problems with his pace and zip thanks to the quick-arm action. Right-handers are especially vulnerable as the ball swings in conventionally only to hold its line every now and then, creating doubt. Short on confidence, Rajat Patidar fell feeling for Mustafizur’s away-angler as RCB lost 3/9 in the second half of the PowerPlay.

Du Plessis, Kohli and Glenn Maxwell did the heavy lifting in IPL 2023 as far as RCB’s batting is concerned, sharing 1769 runs between them. His able allies gone, Kohli set about cleaning up the mess, utilizing the depth of the crease to the hilt to smack Mahesh Theekshana’s drag-down over mid-wicket. He was deprived of the strike as du Plessis went on an early rampage, and the fidgetiness accrued as a result coerced him into a low percentage shot against Mustafizur. There was also the small matter of RCB going 26 balls without a boundary in and around the mini-collapse.

Kohli shuffled across to the off-stump in a bid to cover for the angle but Mustafizur, in what came as another example of his game awareness, followed the lynchpin. The pull shot, dragged from outside off against the angle, lacked the strength to go all the way as Ajinkya Rahane combined with Rachin Ravindra for a marvelous tag-team effort on the rope.

Depicting the volatile nature of T20 cricket, RCB went from 41 for no loss to 78/5 in a span of seven overs, as Cameron Green continued the trend of moving around unsuccessfully in the crease versus Mustafizur whose figures read an incredible 7/4 after 2 overs. The wiry seamer from Satkhira was on song, his red-hot performance making the case for an extra over. However, Gaikwad held him back, a decision that he may reflect on considering the potentially game-changing partnership of 95 off 50 balls forged by Dinesh Karthik and Anuj Rawat for the sixth wicket.

“Unfortunately, we lost a little bit too many wickets in that first seven overs, which meant that the guys needed to bat a little bit and stabilise the innings again,” du Plessis said. “At the end, I felt we were 15 or 20 runs short on a pitch that wasn’t as bad as we played in the first ten overs.’’

Karthik was of the same opinion during the innings break. ‘’We are slightly under par. Chasing 183 would be a lot more tricky than 173,’’ he assessed. RCB fought hard with their backs to the wall, but CSK’s winning streak at their home ground was primed for an extension to eight once Mustafizur unfurled that spell of rapacious intensity and razor-sharp intelligence.