Mumbai Indians beat Chennai Super Kings by 8 wickets in a one-sided opening match of IPL 5. (AP Photo)
This was the poorest opening match of an IPL season ever. In 2008, there was Brendon McCullum's blitzkrieg in Bangalore. In 2009, as the bandwagon moved to South Africa where the batting conditions were tougher, there was Sachin Tendulkar batting 20 overs for an unbeaten and match-winning 59 from 49 balls. In 2010, there was Kolkata Knight Riders edging Deccan Chargers in a hard-fought opener in Mumbai. In 2011, there was Chennai Super Kings beating Kolkata in a nail-biter.
In 2012, the season in which the power of the IPL is seriously being questioned, the first match was a poor advertisement for the tournament. A day after a poor opening ceremony, the action on the field was distinctly ordinary.
It is commonly believed that a score of 160-170 will ensure an engrossing Twenty20 match. This was not engrossing at all; Chennai were awful in being bowled out for 112 in 19.5 overs and their bowling listless in the face of memorable IPL debut by Richard Levi, Mumbai's latest opener. The margin of victory for Mumbai – eight wickets, with Tendulkar also retiring hurt – will show you that the visiting team won handsomely, but truth be told, the defending champions turned in a performance that was not befitting of arguably the best Twenty20 franchise going around.
Startlingly – and herein lay the reason for defeat - there was a distinct lack of coordination and durability in Chennai's innings. Three players were run out, five key batsmen picked out fielders with precision and no one bar Suresh Raina to an extent was able to dominate. Mumbai's fielding was superb, and their bowlers maintained tidy lines, but they were helped significantly by Chennai's lack of direction. It was as un-CSK performance as has been witnessed since the franchise got its mojo together after 2009.
Four players reached double figures but three of them were 10 and one 19. There were just six fours and one six in 19.5 overs and not a single boundary in the last ten overs. Efforts like that won't win you many matches.
From the start there was indecision in the CSK innings and the rot was set. Faf du Plessis was superbly run out by Ambati Rayudu at extra cover. Murali Vijay poked around for 17 deliveries before he chipped an easy catch to mid-on. Raina played a few punchy shots before he charged out to Pragyan Ojha and picked out sweeper cover. Darren Bravo swung the same bowler straight to long-on, having scored a run-a-ball 19. The frustration of not being able to dominate – he faced eight balls for three runs – got to Albie Morkel as he clipped a delivery on the pads out to deep square leg. MS Dhoni was run out trying a risky single with his team's score at 95 for 5. S Badrinath, usually adept at holding the innings together, turned a harmless delivery to midwicket. R Ashwin was also run out trying a non-existent second. Ravindra Jadeja's first outing for Chennai lasted five balls before he was ninth out in the penultimate over, bowled while making room to Lasith Malinga. The innings came to an end with one delivery remaining when the last man Doug Bollinger sliced Malinga to backward point. Game over.
For Mumbai, the most impressive bowler was Ojha in his first outing for his new team. Coming on to bowl the tenth over, he succeeded in luring Raina out of his crease and pouched a big wicket. Three balls later, Bravo swung Ojha to the deep and from there Chennai's innings unravelled. As he had done with Deccan Chargers for four seasons, Ojha stuck to tight lines and enticed the batsmen with his guile and appreciable flight. Ojha's 2 for 17 was his third most economical four-over spell in the IPL after his 2 for 18 in the very first match he played in 2008 and his 2 for 16 against Delhi Daredevils in 2010. This was a strong statement from the left-armer and bodes well for Mumbai.
His senior spinning partner and Mumbai's captain Harbhajan Singh also turned in a good spell. He didn't pick up a wicket, but in conceding just one boundary, he put the skids on the batting and the pressure from one end resulted in the batsmen attempting shots against Ojha and Pollard only to pick out fielders. Harbhajan's field placing was also sharp and he had the right men in the right areas. Almost every big shot played by CSK's batsmen found fielders, and the fact that the boundary count was so low proved how tight Mumbai were in the field.
In their run-chase, Mumbai were powered by their new opening combination of Tendulkar and Levi, the scorer of the fastest Twenty20 international. Levi, after a sluggish start, tore into Jadeja's opening over with two fours and a huge six. Most stunning was his effortless hitting on the leg side, complete with backlift and punchy bat speed. His fifty needed 34 deliveries, and though Levi fell the very next ball, he had done his part in assuring the franchise that they had made the right choice in purchasing him.
Mumbai, reigning Champions League Twenty20 holders and legitimate IPL title contenders, were a gulf apart from Chennai in this match. The tournament is merely one match old, but on the basis of this performance, Mumbai look like an extremely solid outfit.