Recognising how batting only goes harder at Chepauk with every passing over, Mumbai Indians (MI) became the first team in IPL 2021 to opt to bat first at the venue upon winning the toss on Saturday (April 17) against Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH).
Another unique aspect of the conditions in Chennai that MI would’ve recognised is how difficult it has been to hit the ball off the square post the 15th-over mark. Yet, MI couldn’t have even contemplated sending Kieron Pollard, their most dangerous power-hitter, up the order and look to maximise the middle phase, where the surface plays truer in terms of bounce and the amount of grip available. Reason? The Rashid Khan factor.
A lot gets dissected around Rashid Khan’s skillset, the mystery of his variations, how his googly is the hardest to sight and differentiate from his conventional leg-spinner. Not as much attention is paid to the sheer intimidation he brings to the table for the opponent, because had it not been for Rashid Khan, MI could’ve at least thought of sending Pollard up – a move that would make a lot of cricketing sense against most IPL opponents at Chepauk barring SRH.
With the rise of analytics, the fast-paced game of T20 cricket is divided into small, one-on-one contests these days. ‘Match-ups’ is the term used to describe these short but significant tussles, which make a massive difference to the end outcome. Teams identify these match-ups in the planning and preparation stage and look to target the opposition’s weak links enroute to potential success.
The Rashid Khan Factor And Match Up Against Kieron Pollard
In terms of ‘match-ups’, Pollard’s worst would’ve been to face Rashid Khan in the middle-overs, as he has been one of the strugglers against SRH’s most threatening spinner. Among MI players with a minimum of 15 balls faced in the IPL versus Rashid, Pollard’s strike-rate of 67.6 is one of the worst. And so, it made sense for MI to accept Pollard is no answer to counter the Rashid Khan factor, and keep their explosive batter lower down the order.
It’s not that MI didn’t still try to put Rashid off his ways, as they had Ishan Kishan batting at No.4. Kishan, interestingly, has the best strike-rate against Rashid among MI batters. On the day, however, even the usually aggressive left-hander was failing to get the ball off the square versus him, struggling to pick Rashid in the air and off the deck.
Pollard only had to face Rashid for three deliveries, including a wide, in the final over of wrist-spinner’s spell, and went on to score an important 35* off 22 balls to take MI to a fighting total of 150/5. In mostly avoiding a ‘match-up’ favourable to the opposition, MI could look back at that as a win.
But the Rashid Khan factor is still immense. Perhaps the most telling impact of it was reflected in the figures of Vijay Shankar, whom MI clearly looked to target from ball one and lost the wickets of Rohit Sharma and Suryakumar Yadav in the process. Both the batsmen got out to attacking shots, which they might have delayed had it not been for the ‘factor’ involved. Rashid himself ended without a wicket in his four-over spell of 0/22. MI couldn’t so much be dare as purely pragmatic in facing him, just to ensure they took the game forward at the other end. That shows the excellence of Rashid Khan.