Lucknow Super Giants skipper KL Rahul made batting look like a walk in the park with a 56-ball century in his 100th IPL game to put five-time champions Mumbai Indians all but out of the league with an 18-run win on Saturday.
Rahul’s unbeaten 60-ball 103, his third three-figure mark across all editions of IPL, propelled Lucknow to a commanding score of 199 for four and then his bowlers joined the party to restrict MI to 181 for nine in 20 overs.
With six consecutive defeats, the tournament is as good as over for the league’s most popular team, even before it has reached the halfway stage.
Rohit Sharma’s (6) nightmare of a tournament continued while Ishan Kishan (13 off 17 balls) is certainly feeling the pressure of the Rs 15.25 crore price tag as he played on a Marcus Stoinis delivery and displayed his frustration by smashing the foam-based boundary rope.
In between, Dewald Brevis (31 off 13 balls) hit some breathtaking shots before another find of the season, NT Tilak Varma (26 off 26 balls), and the ever dependable Suryakumar Yadav (37 off 27 balls) added 64 runs to resurrect the innings.
Once Jason Holder yorked Tilak, the match as a contest was over with Surya not getting the required support from other batters, although Kieron Pollard (25 off 14 balls) threw his bat around in a losing cause.
Surya’s dismissal, after he failed to dispatch a Ravi Bishnoi long-hop, was the final nail in the MI coffin.
Lucknow’s fast bowlers Avesh Khan (3/30 in 4 overs) and Dushmantha Chameera (1/48 in 4 overs) got good support from medium pacers Holder (1/34 in 4 overs) and Stoinis (1/13 in 2 overs).
Lucknow have four wins from six games while MI have lost a dozen games on the trot for the first time in 15 editions of IPL.
With the kind of team they have assembled, it will only get worse from hereon as there is no plan B, and more importantly, the players to execute the plan.
For Rahul, both as a batter and skipper, the IPL is proving to be the platform which he desperately needed to enhance his captaincy credentials as far as the national team is concerned.
On way to his hundred, he added 52 for the opening stand with Quinton de Kock (24 off 13 balls), 72 with Manish Pandey (38 off 29 balls), and another brisk 43 runs with Deepak Hooda (15 off 8 balls) for the fourth wicket.
MI’s fielding was perhaps their worst in the past four to five seasons and it didn’t help matters that Rahul was in imperious form to make full use of it.
Bereft of credible options in the dug-out, it was only natural that the tournament’s most successful skipper, Rohit Sharma looked clearly out of ideas and his ploy of playing an extra spinner in left-arm orthodox Fabian Allen (1/46 in 4 overs) didn’t quite work out.
Jasprit Bumrah (0/24 in 4 overs) is manfully carrying the burden but one man can’t save the team from the disaster that this season has turned out to be.
Otherwise why would the MI skipper start with part-time off-spinner Tilak Varma, knowing that the Lucknow captain is a master player of slow bowlers.
The six powerplay overs saw six different bowlers being used and de Kock should blame himself for wasting an opportunity to score a big one on a track that resembled a shirtfront.
There were too many short balls for Rahul to play the cuts and pulls at will and also the slog sweep, and not to forget some delectable drives when anything was pitched up.
Twenty fours and seven sixes were testimony to MI’s plight and the likes of Tymal Mills (0/54 in 3 overs), Jaydev Unadkat (2/32 in 4 overs) and Murugan Ashwin (1/33 in 4 overs) tried their best but could not succeed.
Sample this: Ashwin bowled a decent googly and Stoinis hit him for the biggest sixes. Allen bowled a wicket-to-wicket delivery and was swept behind square for a six by Rahul.
Between overs 13 to 16, Rahul and company added 60 runs and it didn’t help their cause that MI have had one of the worst days in the outfield, not being able to cut the boundaries even after getting hold of the ball.
Not having a Trent Boult, Krual Pandya or a Rahul Chahar is hurting MI badly and getting as many as 16 middle-of-the-road players for just 18 crore hasn’t proved to be a wise business decision so far.