Mumbai Indians
File photo. Image Credit: Sportzpics for BCCI

Dubai: Mumbai Indians might have gone down narrowly in their 2021 Indian Premier League campaign opener against Royal Challengers Bangalore, but that is hardly a cause of concern for their Director of Cricket.

Zaheer Khan’s engaging smile at the virtual press conference showed he and the MI thinktank are unperturbed after that two-wicket defeat by Royal Challengers Bangalore off the last ball of their innings. Missing a few mainstays in both departments, MI scored a rather average 159/9 and only just managed to let go at the death with debutante Marco Jansen, tight throughout, handling the responsibility of bowling the last over, in which RCB needed just seven to win, rather well.

Over the years, Mumbai has sort of made it a tradition to start slow and build momentum going forward, with skipper Rohit Sharma declaring post match: “Winning the championship is important, I guess, not the first game”.

Khan seems to agree. “That little bit of fine-tuning and brushing up of skills is always required, but on the whole I felt it was a good game of cricket and for the first game we were happy with how it went,” the former India quick said.

“As we go along in the tournament and create that momentum, which is often spoken about, there is still a lot of work left to be done with regard to the season. Everyone is keen on putting in those hard yards.

“We all understand how the IPL is as a tournament and the standard of cricket played in the IPL. You have to keep pushing yourself. We try and do the same things and try and continue with our processes and ultimately it’s just about enjoying your cricket.”

With five IPL titles in the bag, including the 2020 honours, MI more than justified the adage that ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’. They have a potent side with Sharma leading the pack and Chris Lynn taking steps to show he can open the batting despite long time MI opener Quinton de Kock’s availability for Tuesday’s second match with Kolkata Knight Riders. Lynn made a case for himself with a 35-ball 49 and it is unlikely he will be sidelined even if De Kock starts. With batting definitely the focus, either Jansen, who hit the ground running on debut or leg-spinner Rahul Chahar, who showed a bit of rust, could be the one sitting out with a steaming KKR piling on a solid 187/6 in their opener against Sunrisers Hyderabad. KKR won that game by 10 runs after restricting SRH to 177/5.

They have a rather dismal win-loss record of 21-6 against MI though, but that piece of stat is irrelevant to Khan.

He explained: “You go through any team and you can see that any team can beat any team on any given day. That’s something we have to keep that in mind and it’s a good challenge and something we really thrive on.

“As a cricketer and a team, it’s always about going out there and accepting those challenges and bettering yourself. I’ve seen RCB do the same thing and CSK also came very strong there and Delhi Capitals also had the upper hand with batting in their game and SRH in these conditions are also going to be a great side, but KKR managed to beat them.

“So every team is going to do their homework and be prepared and identify the gaps and that’s a process which is followed in the IPL and that’s why it’s such a high standard tournament.”

Speaking of the team make-up, Khan added: “Quinton will be available for tomorrow’s game. He is out of quarantine and has had a practice session.

“We are very excited with Marco as well and the squad for us is looking very good. The guys when I see them in practice they are very upbeat and waiting for that opportunity and when you are part of a big set up and the champion side you have to wait for your opportunities. That’s something the whole group is aware of.

“First games are first games, but Marco made a good comeback and went out there and made an impact. Chris Lynn is a pro. He is a good character to have in the dressing room. So that’s how it goes. As professional athletes, you have to be prepared and align yourself with how the team management is thinking. You have to be on the money with the decision making.”

Khan is also looking forward to the selection conundrum MI’s thinktank faces ahead of the KKR match.

“It’s a good headache to have as the management and we are lucky to have players waiting to grab their opportunities and push each other. That’s the exciting part. As management, when you have these kinds of headaches it’s reassuring that you are set well in the tournament,” he concluded.

Catch the match

Tuesday: Mumbai Indians vs Kolkata Knight Riders

Venue: M.A.Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai

Match starts at: 6 pm UAE time