Sluggish home team pays the price

Mark Boucher timed his asault perfectly.-VIVEK BENDRE

Mumbai Indians could never get its act right despite crowd support, while Bangalore Challengers was more professional in its approach. Over to Nandakumar Marar.

Captaincy in Twenty20 cricket is a tricky job, with very little time for damage control when things go out of hand. Harbhajan Singh, pushed into the hotseat due to Sachin Tendulkar’s withdrawal, learnt about the intricacies of leadership the hard way. Mumbai Indians lost by five wickets in the DLF IPL in a home game where enterprise scored over entertainment.

Bangalore Royal Challengers, led by the vastly experienced Rahul Dravid and with Venkatesh Prasad and Martin Crowe on the coaching staff, put the first match loss behind them and came up with a focussed display at the Wankhede Stadium. Tight bowling and calculated batting helped them reach the target (166 runs in 20 overs) with two balls remaining. Mark Boucher (39 runs and one stumping) won the Man of the Match award.

Zaheer Khan bowled within the limitations imposed by T20 cricket and dealt two blows in four overs, conceding a mere 17 runs. Australian youngster Luke Ronchi’s attempt to hit the left-hander across the line ended in a slash towards point. Virat Kohli’s diving catch was one of the fielding highs of the night. The Indian bowler ran out the dangerous Sanath Jayasuriya (29 runs, 16 balls) and removed the hard-hitting Shaun Pollock (28 off 12) for his second wicket.

Dravid’s handling of his bowling resources came into focus when the dashing Robin Uthappa spent time at the crease trying to justify high expectations.

Karnataka seamer B. Akhil and left-arm spinner Sunil Joshi kept the India T20 star and Ranji teammate in check by denying him the pace and varying the length. Mumbai Indians’ main hope belted 48 (33 balls), then walked out to hit Akhil across the line and was stumped.

Bangalore Royal Challengers executed the second part of the plan, chasing down the 166 runs required for victory, with a calm, calculated approach. Dravid showed the way at the start, picking up 32 runs (33 balls) with risk-free batting, working the ball into the gaps for singles and then opening up with cuts to the fence. The skipper and cricket icon, overlooked by the selectors for the ODIs versus Australia, proved his utility in the faster version and against bowlers such as Jayasuriya, Harbhajan and Pollock.

Harbhajan, burdened by captaincy, celebrated Dravid’s dismissal after beating the batsman in flight. Jayasuriya sent back Ross Taylor, but the batting momentum continued till the end. Jacques Kallis (25 off 24 balls) made amends for his bowling lapses. Kohli’s temperament and technique stood out, paving the way for Boucher to take charge on the home stretch. The South African’s clean hitting fetched him four 4s and two 6s.

Mumbai Indians, licking their wounds, made some strange choices. Ashish Nehra as a bowling option backfired. His sluggish fielding on huge grounds and suspect fitness raised posers about his place in a T20 event. Abhishek Nayar grabbed attention with three classy catches in the outfield, enough to turn a match around for an inspired bunch of players. But the spark was missing in the home team, despite the fan support, celebrities in the stands and fireworks before the start.

THE SCORES

Mumbai Indians v Bangalore Royal Challengers, Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai, April 20, 2008.