RCB fails to pack a punch

Mumbai Indians' skipper Harbhajan Singh marshalled his resources well.-K. PICHUMANI

On a pitch that had improved considerably from the time Mumbai Indians and New South Wales Blues had together put up around 200 runs for 15 wickets in 37 overs a few days back, Mumbai Indians was bowled out for 139 batting first. Bangalore, the perpetrators of the largest chase in CLT20, of a line-up that bats so deep that the team might well not bother turning up when it's their turn with the ball, fell short, fell way short — by 30 runs.

If viewers had sat through hour after hour of unabashed hard-sell from commentators and former cricketers alike, and if they had managed to sustain their interest through 21 days of a tournament whose reach and revenue so underwhelmed that the title sponsor backed out two years into a five-year deal a fortnight or so before the current edition, and finally through a final that some termed as an anticlimax, they would have had, at the end of it all, said it's criminal.

There were several things criminal about the final in Chepauk that was, especially with the team from across the state. Royal Challengers Bangalore came into the final having scored 172, 169, 206, 214 and 203 in the tournament until then. On a pitch that had improved considerably from the time Mumbai Indians and New South Wales Blues had together put up around 200 runs for 15 wickets in 37 overs a few days back, Mumbai Indians was bowled out for 139 batting first. Bangalore, the perpetrators of the largest chase in CLT20, of a line-up that bats so deep that the team might well not bother turning up when it's their turn with the ball, fell short, fell way short — by 30 runs.

Thirty runs in a low scoring match is a large margin, and here are a few more figures that would leave RCB's endless list of clubbers more scarlet than their jerseys. Tillekaratne Dilshan top scored with 27 and was followed by extras, a whole 20 runs of it. Except for Dilshan, who was first to go in the fifth over of the chase, nobody hit more than a single boundary or scored at more than a run a ball for that matter.

While it was clear that trying to blast their way out of trouble was only getting them deeper in it, Bangalore's batters refused to look up, look around and realise they weren't home in Bangalore (where they had played all their matches bar the final and where any target that was not mathematically impossible was immediately chased down) but in Chennai, where pumping your legs to get up and down the wicket was probably a safer and sometimes the only way to go.

Perhaps it was a question of not changing something that had worked well so far — in the league match against South Australia Redbacks — seven of its ten players that batted that night managed to clear the fence. Chris Gayle, Dilshan and Virat Kohli hit eleven between them, while Saurabh Tiwary, who ended on nine, Mayank Agarwal (6), Daniel Vettori (8) and Arun Karthik (6 n.o.), all of whom too, incredibly enough, managed to clear the ropes.

So, chasing 140 to win, after blowing a start which saw it reach 38 for no loss in four overs (Lasith Malinga had already sent down two of his four allotted overs by then) to find itself on a still fairly comfortable 67 for two in 10.1 overs, the batsmen decided they would settle for nothing less than boundaries. What followed was a five over period where RCB locked themselves up and threw the keys away. In the thirty deliveries that followed, Harbhajan Singh could not risk bowling Malinga anymore and so bowled Yuzvendra Chahal (two overs), Kieron Pollard, James Franklin and allowed himself one over too.

Discounting Harbhajan, none of the others would qualify as frontline bowlers, but that period where RCB should ideally have rotated the strike, getting themselves within striking distance of the target was instead spent doing nothing at all. Just seven runs were scored off the bat in 30 balls, all in singles, despite the field being pushed back (at one stage Pollard bowled around the wicket with just a short fine leg within the circle on the leg side and any contact on the ball would lead to a single, even a quickly run double), the batsmen repeatedly hoicked, losing four wickets and possibly the match in the process.

If it sounds like RCB imploded, handing Mumbai its first tournament triumph, it is only half the story. Harbhajan proved to be a canny captain, Malinga was routinely unhittable and James Franklin played a role with bat and ball, in both the semi-final and the final. Habhajan persisted with Malinga, giving him his third straight over (2-0-15-0 until then) at the start of the chase — an over which yielded the wicket of Dilshan. He did the little things right, though the match looked won by then, by giving Malinga the penultimate over instead of the final one and making the issue doubly sure.

He also used himself well, promoted Franklin who was having a good run, claimed three crucial wickets with his off-spin, including the set up of Gayle, and keeping together an injury-hit outfit that was in the eye of controversy from the start of the tournament.

THE SCORES

Mumbai Indians: A. Blizzard (run out) 3; S. Kanwar b Nannes 13; A. Rayudu c Gayle b Bhatkal 22; J. Franklin (run out) 41; S. Yadav (run out) 24; K. Pollard c Kohli b Vettori 2; R. Sathish c Agarwal b Bhatkal 9; Harbhajan Singh lbw b Vettori 0; L. Malinga c Aravind b Bhatkal 16; A. Nechim (not out) 2; Y. Chahal c Gayle b Aravind 2; Extras (lb-1, w-4) 5. Total (in 20 overs) 139.

Fall of wickets: 1-10, 2-24, 3-65, 4-105, 5-108, 6-109, 7-109, 8-135, 9-135.

RCB bowling: Dilshan 4-0-34-0; Nannes 4-0-14-1; Aravind 4-0-33-1; Vettori 4-0-30-2; Bhatkal 3-0-21-3; Gayle 1-0-6-0.

Royal Challengers Bangalore: T. Dilshan b Malinga 27; C. Gayle lbw b Harbhajan 5; V. Kohli c Blizzard b Harbhajan 11; M. Agarwal c Pollard b Chahal 14; S. Tiwary c Harbhajan b Nechim 17; Arun Karthik c Pollard b Chahal 0; M. Kaif c Kanwar b Pollard 3; D. Vettori st. Rayudu b Harbhajan 1; R. Bhatkal c Sathish b Nechim 6; S. Aravind b Malinga 4; D. Nannes (not out) 0; Extras (b-4, lb-1, w-14, nb-1) 20. Total (in 19.2 overs) 108.

Fall of wickets: 1-38, 2-42, 3-67, 4-73, 5-74, 6-81, 7-92, 8-98, 9-108.

MI bowling: Malinga 4-0-23-2; Nechim 3.2-0-26-2; Harbhajan 4-0-20-3; Pollard 4-0-21-1; Chahal 3-0-9-2; Franklin 1-0-4-0.

A Special Correspondent