Stand-in captain’s stand-out show

Shaun Pollock... leading from the front.-VIVEK BENDRE

The Delhi batsmen gave bowlers the charge, the Mumbai catching was top-class and Pollock snatched the match away from Sehwag, writes Nandakumar Marar.

Circumstances forced Shaun Pollock into the captaincy hotseat. Three matches into the job, the South African is firmly in charge. The Mumbai Indians players, aware of the situation which pitchforked a reluctant senior into handling so much responsibility, did their bit to make his job easier. The 29-run victory over Delhi Daredevils in the sixth round was the outcome of high energy levels in fielding and catching.

Pollock’s enthusiasm rubbed off on his teammates and they got transformed into an energetic bunch. The absence of Harbhajan Singh and Sachin Tendulkar was not even felt as the chosen ones, including two IPL debutants — Yogesh Takawale and Rohan Raje — rallied around the captain. The atmosphere at the D. Y. Patil Stadium was electrifying, roars for every run stopped and celebrations for every wicket sparked off a Mumbai Indians revival.

The captain acknowledged the support from the ‘12th man’. Cricket fans from districts like Raigad, busloads from as far as Pune came to feast on IPL action. “It was like an extra player in your side, especially when we got on top, the noise was deafening. It was a fantastic atmosphere, we enjoyed playing here,” observed Pollock, showing the way forward with a typical T20 blast at number seven, punching two fours and three sixes (33 runs, 14 balls), consolidating on useful knocks from the top four batsmen.

Sanath Jayasuriya, the top-scorer (34 runs, 16 balls) described the team mood. “It is tough for Polly but he is doing a really good job. He is an experienced captain. When you are playing as a team, you have to support him.” The Sri Lankan veteran, yet to fire with the bat in this event, guided new opening partner Takawale, a wicket-keeper/bat from Maharashtra, in a 46-run stand for the first wicket. Glenn McGrath was handled competently, Delhi’s other pace spearhead, Mohd. Asif, could not make headway.

McGrath bowled out his four overs without getting a wicket, Asif gave away 46 runs completing his quota for one wicket. Mumbai’ total of 162 was not intimidating enough for the Delhi batting lineup, extending right up to the versatile Rajat Bhatia at seven down, but the visitors ended on the losing side.

Pollock managed to extract a special effort from the fielders, starting with Robin Uthappa picking up two sharp catches at cover. Gautam Gambhir and Shikhar Dhawan were back in the dugout, there was a buzz in the air about something exciting about to happen as Sehwag strode out to bat. Dhaval Kulkarni, one of the young Mumbai fast bowlers expected to play a supporting role, stretched out in his follow-through to block a Sehwag drive, got his fingertips to the ball which rolled onto the stumps at the non-striker end. A. B. de Villiers, a T20 specialist, was stranded and went back stunned. The turning point had arrived for the home side, a reflex action by Kulkarni had reduced Delhi to 37-3 in the seventh over.

The excitement of T20 cricket, electrifying fielding and savage batting, was about to unfold as the Delhi captain went after the bowling. Pollock’s hands-on captaincy came to the fore. Calmly directing operations amidst the excitement, greeting special fielding efforts with shouts of encouragement, he chose Dominic Thornley to rein in Sehwag (40 off 20 balls, three sixes and three fours). “The wicket was such that change of pace would do the trick, therefore we opted for bowlers who could bowl the slower ball well.” Thornley got his man, the Delhi destroyer mistiming to midwicket where the captain caught cleanly.

Mumbai’s patience was paying off, it was a matter of finding out whether the other batsmen would crack under pressure. The Delhi batsmen gave bowlers the charge, the Mumbai catching was top-class and Pollock had snatched the match away from Sehwag. Shoaib Malik (24 off 22) and Dinesh Kartik (28 off 23) offered resistance, then the innings fell apart as the asking rate soared. “160 is not a big score in T20. We do have a strong batting line-up, but sometimes, someone gets out at the wrong time. It cost the team dearly,” reasoned the Delhi captain, adding: “If I would not have gotten out, probably the result would have been different.”

The Mumbai Indians celebrated long into the night after the Delhi Daredevils had folded up for 133 in 18.5 overs. Drumbeats echoed in the stands as home fans enjoyed the high of an incredible victory for team work under Man of the Match Pollock.

THE SCORES

Mumbai Indians v Delhi Daredevils, Dr. D. Y. Patil Sports Academy, Mumbai. May 4, 2008.

Result: Mumbai Indians won by 29 runs.

Mumbai Indians 162 for eight in 20 overs (S. Jayasuriya 34, D. Thornely 30, R. Uthappa 22, S. Pollock 33, V. Yomahesh 3-33) beat Delhi Daredevils 133 in 18.5 overs (V. Sehwag 40, A. B. de Villiers 21, S. Malik 24, K. Karthik 28, S. Pollock 2-16, A. Nehra 3-25, D. Kulkarni 2-18).