Great sporting teams prepare for a period of transition.
Watching proceedings on Friday at the Brabourne Stadium, you wondered if Mumbai Indians were in the middle of one. Kieron Pollard, finisher supreme, white-ball destroyer and bonafide T20 legend, seemed a pale shadow of the big-hitter he once was.
Tim David, among their costliest signings at the mega auction, meanwhile stepped up to play the kind of role Pollard has for more than a decade. It made you wonder why he’s played just four games this season when he could’ve easily played more. Remember, Mumbai fielded just three overseas players in one match, and two in another.
Where Pollard stuttered to 4 off 14, David blasted 44 not out from 21 balls. Where Pollard was diffident against spin – it seemed inevitable that Hardik Pandya would bring on Rashid Khan almost immediately as he came out to bat – David muscled the ball fearlessly despite the knowledge that it was on him to revive a stuttering innings, albeit on a belter of a surface.
Pollard vs spin has been a no-contest this season. His overall strike rate of 109.32 this year is his worst since his maiden IPL season in 2010. Against spin, it gets worse: five times, he has been out to the slow stuff, while striking at a touch over 70. When you’re in such a downward spiral, even a half-decent spinner stands a chance of tying you down. Rashid Khan would have been licking his lips.
Walking in with Mumbai 111 for 3 in 12 overs, Pollard did have a minute to steady himself – an over each of Pradeep Sangwan and Lockie Ferguson – before Rashid came on. By that point Pollard was on 4 off 9, with Ferguson having mixed up his pace to tie him down. He then tried to see Rashid off. For his part, Rashid stuck to his tried-and-tested mantra of bowling ripping legbreaks from a length. Pollard wasn’t taking any chances.
In his pomp, Pollard picked lengths in a jiffy. Here, he didn’t seem sure whether to go forward or to play from the crease. If it was spinning away or sliding in. He also seemed to be playing for the wrong ‘un. When your mind is clouded to this extent, it’s already half the battle lost.
Pollard duly got a legbreak that beat the edge. He played down the wrong line and the ball took the top of off. He was gone for 4 off 14. In the 2.5 overs he had been around at the crease, Mumbai managed just eight runs. A projected score that had touched 200 was suddenly toned down to 169.
“He’s struggling, he really is,” Ian Bishop observed on T20 Time Out, ESPNcricinfo’s analysis show. “He’s trying everything, and there are weaknesses that are coming through every time. Someone holds back a wristspinner of some kind to bowl to him, and it’s not the first time this season.
“He’s either got to reinvent his game, because he’s been given a really long time this season by Mumbai. So he’s got to try and reinvent himself. I don’t like the catch-up, but the minimum you have to go at is a run a ball. Four off 14, 14 off 24, that’s too much. You can’t do that.”
Even as Pollard cut a forlorn figure, David looked at ease and in the zone right from the outset. It was as if he had been practicing range hitting elsewhere, just before walking in. In the five preceding overs, Mumbai had managed all of 23 runs while losing three wickets. Pressure? There was no sign of it as he calmly shuffled from outside leg, set his base on middle and coolly drilled Mohammed Shami past mid-off to rev up.
Next ball, he quickly jumped on a short ball, sending it soaring to the square-leg boundary. Having bowled full earlier, it was a perfect reaction from a snarling fast bowler to pepper the batter with a short one. Except, David was into position in a jiffy. Suddenly, he had broken the shackles with two fours.
David then showed his smarts by playing out Rashid’s final over, milking singles with Tilak Varma, before he took on Alzarri Joseph. The arc between long-off and deep midwicket would be his preferred hitting zone as he blasted four sixes off the last 11 balls of his innings.
His modus operandi was simple and efficient: he set himself a strong base around middle, to be able to access both parts of the ground. Short, he was ready with the pull. Full and wide, he accessed long-off. Full and angling in, he had deep midwicket. It gave Mumbai important runs at the death. From looking good for 200 to suddenly appearing as if they’d get only 165, David had dragged them to 177.
“Everybody I know in the circle I worked in asked where Tim David was when he wasn’t playing,” Bishop said. “He’s shown in these two games why he should have been playing. Mumbai Indians, when they reflect, will have to say we didn’t get it right with some of the selections we made in the first half of the tournament.
“David said himself he’d love to bat up the order. He’d love the chance to go early and set himself up. He’s young. He is heading towards the prime of his career. Let us not pigeonhole this guy and let him blossom into something dynamic.”
The late assault did not surprise Daniel Vettori one bit. “It’s such an impressive innings,” he said as part of the T20 Time Out panel. “It’s Shami, it’s Lockie Ferguson, he made it all look easy. Not one ball did he slog. It’s a big, tall man using his strength and using his ability. Forty-four off 21 when they were under a little bit of pressure. It would be fascinating to understand why a player of his class was left out when they had two available [overseas] slots.
“David has done this before in other leagues when he sat out a little bit. He’s putting together this resume where he should be the one who’s first selected. Australia are going to be looking at him with the power that he has. There’s a lot going on to be impressed with. You just don’t see such clean hitting with such pure shot making at the back end of an IPL innings.”
It’s safe to assume Mumbai are out of the playoffs race. They have four games left. That means four more opportunities for David to potentially build on his credentials. Potentially four more for Pollard to end a nightmare of a season on a high.
If he does – and he’s capable of it, you only need to think back to the 2019 final – Mumbai will gladly take it with both hands. If he doesn’t, David has quietly made all the right moves to take over the baton. (Cricinfo)