Amit Mishra of Delhi Capitals bowls.
Amit Mishra of the Delhi Capitals struck four telling blows that floored the Mumbai Indians in IPL 2021. Image Credit: Sportzpics for BCCI

Amit Mishra could well be the poster boy for leg-spin in the Indian Premier League 2021. His four-wicket haul did wonders for the Delhi Capitals. It helped Rishabh Pant’s side break a losing streak of five matches against the mighty Mumbai Indians, a feat that will inject more self-belief in the team.

Mishra limped out of IPL 2020 with an injury. But his return this year has sharpened the Delhi attack, and that was evident against Mumbai. The Chennai pitch offers a bit of turn, and batsmen have struggled in the latter half of the innings. But Mumbai have managed to defend below-par totals. When Mishra took out Rohit Sharma, Hardik Pandya, Kieron Pollard and Ishan Kishan — all prize wickets — Mumbai plummeted to the lowest score in IPl 2021 (Sunrisers Hyderabad too scored 137).

What makes Mishra so potent a weapon? He’s a classical leg-spinner. He doesn’t have too many variations to be dubbed a mystery spinner. Mishra’s repertoire is rather old-fashioned, with leg-breaks googlies and top spinners. Like all good spinners of the past, he loves to toss the ball up and dip it late in the flight. Unlike modern-day spinners, he’s slower through the air.

The good old virtues of slow, flighted deliveries resulted in the dismissals of Rohit Sharma and Hardik Pandya. The flight was inviting, but the batsmen never reached the pitch of the ball; it had dipped. It skewed the timing. The skiers were taken down the field.

Pollard fell to well-pitched googly that pushed him on the backfoot and trapped him in front of the wicket. A typical dismissal by a crafty leg-spin bowler. Kishan played a yorker on to his stump. A yorker from a leg-spinner? Why not? By then, Mishra has gained a stranglehold on the batsmen who had begun to tackle him tentatively. Which explains why Kishan played a full-length delivery on the backfoot with a horizontal bat.

Mishra won half the battle for Delhi. The target was only 137, but it had to be chased down. Here’s where Shikhar Dhawan’s maturity and experience came in handy. A superb stroke-maker, Dhawan has been scoring briskly at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium, but at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai, he curbed his instincts and played some sensible cricket. That set up Delhi’s chase superbly.

By the time he left at 100 after scoring 45 (42 balls), Delhi were well and truly on the way to wrapping up the match with five overs left. Dhawan showed the necessity of batting deep on a difficult pitch.

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Full credit to the Delhi Capitals’ think-tank and players. They out-thought and outplayed the five-time defending champions. When Chris Woakes was dropped, it raised eyebrows since he had performed well so far. Lalit Yadav filled the breach with four fine overs of off-spin and batted at No.4 slot to help Dhawan negotiate a difficult phase after Steven Smith’s departure. This looks good for Delhi’s stint in Chennai.

What happened to Mumbai? We know their batting has been misfiring. The middle-order has been struggling. And captain Sharma knows that a batsman has to bat deep to post a fighting total at Chepauk. Yet, he surrendered the advantage after striking the ball beautifully: from 67/1 in 6.4 overs, Mumbai slumped to 86/6 in 12 overs. The match was lost there. The bowlers didn’t have enough to defend.

Did the loss dent Mumbai’s chances? No, not at all. Two losses in two games is worrying, but they have turned around worse campaigns. But they need to fix the batting. Sooner the better.