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Saturday, February 22, 2020

IPL 2019: In season opener, spin is king

Harbhajan Singh didn’t play much Ranji Trophy or the even T20 domestic tournament but has come back for IPL. He couldn’t have asked for a better pitch than the one served at Chepauk.

By: Express News Service | Updated: March 26, 2019 3:28:56 pm
Chennai Super Kings’ spinners Harbhajan Singh, Imran Tahir and Ravindra Jadeja interact at end of the first innings of the first match of 12th edition of the Indian Premier League 2019. (PTI Photo)

“Thirumbi vandutenu sollu” (Tell them I am back) was a famous Rajinikanth movie dialogue that Harbhajan Singh used on Twitter after he was signed up by Chennai Super Kings last year. With the help of a fan Saravanan, Harbhajan indulges in a lot of Tamil tweets ranging from quotes from the great Tamil philosopher-poet Thiruvalluvar to movie dialogues – it has created much amusement on Tamil twitter but Harbhajan, who does commentary for India games these days, is certainly back. He didn’t play much Ranji Trophy or the even T20 domestic tournament but has come back for IPL. He couldn’t have asked for a better pitch than the one served at Chepauk.

The ball spun, it peeled off slowly off the surface, and it even offered some bounce – and the combination proved deadly. Especially, when the RCB batsmen decided to bat as if they were batting at the Chinnaswamy stadium, studiously ignoring any warning that the pitch repeatedly threw at them.

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Even Virat Kohli played a bit of a tame shot though since he was the first wicket to fall, he doesn’t carry as much blame as the rest, including AB de Villiers, did. It was a shortish ball from Harbhajan, perhaps he felt that Kohli might go for a big one and was trying to pull the length back and it had ended up as a long-hop almost. Kohli went for the pull but was surprised by how slow the ball came. If he had read the pitch well, he would have waited that bit longer and gone more square but he was early into the shot – rather the ball came on late, and he couldn’t control the pull. There was just one fielder deep in the area, a man few yards in from the boundary at deep midwicket and Kohli found him.

de Villiers, as he said on air later, made a mess of it out there. He seemed intent on counterattacking the spinners but chose the wrong shots. He went for a sweep first and top-edged Harbhajan to deep but was dropped by Imran Tahir. He then chose the slog sweep option but again was too early into the shot and was swallowed at deep midwicket.

In between these two wickets, Harbhajan had removed Moeen Ali who had swept him for a six. Yet again, a slow peeler off the track and Ali too chose the wrong shot- trying to go across the line but the ball stopped and bounded off the leading edge back to Harbhajan. He had bowled four overs on trot with the new ball and had broken the back of Bangalore with figures of 20 for 3. Considering his struggles last year in Powerplay, where he took just two wickets at an economy rate of nearly 11, he has made a dream start this season.

By then it was clear that the game was going to head only one direction and Imran Tahir ensured it would go Chennai’s way with a triple strike. He took 3 for 9 and Ravindra Jadeja picked up couple of wickets as Chennai shoved RCB.

RCB misreads pitch

“Chennai read the situation much better,” Ab de Villiers would say later when he was miked up during fielding. It was an understatement to say the least. Even as Chennai went in with three specialist spinners in addition to the two very capable part-timers Suresh Raina and Kedar Jadhav, RCB decided to go with just two spinners. Virat Kohli has sought to play down any victory talk by distancing the franchise from ee saala named (This year, the cup is ours) that had almost become the RCB’s anthem last year.

Even in the press meet, he talked about how they have messed up in decision making during pressure situations in the past as the reason for barren run in the last 10 years in IPL.

On Saturday, the decision went wrong before the toss and the decision-making went awry on field. For a large part, they seemed to be going for a 175-run target and lost wickets in a bunch in very quick time. They kept going for the shots and didn’t re-evaluate that original thought. On a tacky pitch, they played too many cross-batted shots

They didn’t have the bowlers to put any real pressure and Suresh Raina used the opportunity to go past 5000 IPL runs – a legend of this tournament. The Chennai spinners took 8 wickets for 50 runs but there is one more stat, dug out by Cricviz, that would worry Kohli and RCB more.

In the last 15 IPL games, Kohli has fallen nine times to spinners at an average of 22.33 and run rate of 6.81. It won’t be a surprise, then, that many IPL teams might attack him with spinners at the start. It remains to be seen how that record pans out in the upcoming games but more importantly RCB fans would hope for some intelligent decision making from their team management.

Today’s matches: KKR vs SRH, Kolkata; 4pm & MI vs Delhi Capitals, Mumbai; 8pm

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