Madhya Pradesh v Mumbai, Ranji Trophy quarter-final, Indore January 2, 2012

Why so defensive, Mumbai?

Madhya Pradesh's last pair was at the crease when the Mumbai captain Wasim Jaffer pushed back seven fielders to the deep. It set the tone for a day when Mumbai just refused to take charge.

You have the opposition on 171 for 9 in a knockout game at their home ground after having decided to bowl first. It is no exaggeration to say that you are completely on top. Ideally you will want to get the last wicket as soon as possible. Ideally that will reflect in your field settings against the remaining batsmen, No. 8 and No. 11. Ideally you will not have seven men in the deep against No. 8. Yes, Mumbai captain Wasim Jaffer had seven deep fielders for TP Sudhindra, who has a first-class batting average of 16.05.

Third man, deep point, long-off, long-on, deep midwicket, deep square leg and fine leg made for quite a sight as Mumbai repeatedly tried short deliveries against Sudhindra, as if the only way to get him was to bounce him out. The last wicket partnership consumed 40 minutes and added a crucial 21 runs in what is turning out to be a low-scoring game. Such astonishing defensiveness characterized Mumbai's approach on a day they should have thoroughly dominated after Madhya Pradesh's batting failed.

It wasn't only against the last pair that Mumbai refused to take charge of the game. After having got a wicket in the first over of the match when Zafar Ali was trapped leg-before by Dhawal Kulkarni, Jaffer took men out of the slip cordon as soon as Mohnish Mishra started to attack. That did not stop Mishra from driving at anything pitched up. It instead allowed the surprisingly defensive but in-form Naman Ojha to score a few runs through where third slip would have been.

Mumbai then ran into a batsman who was prepared to treat their attack for what it was - not exactly threatening. Dhawal Kulkarni kept dropping it short and Udit Birla kept pulling and cutting for boundaries. MP were still in trouble at lunch on 115 for 5 but the way Mumbai began the second session further revealed their state of mind. Deep point was in place not only for Birla but also for new batsman Murtaza Ali.

No wonder the same safety-first attitude characterized Mumbai's batting. They had the opportunity to shut MP out of the match by stumps. An uncertain opening partnership of 26 in 14 overs led to the pressure building up on Mumbai instead. No doubt, MP's new-ball attack was disciplined, but it was clear from the manner in which the openers played that their mandate was to bat out time.

It is only for so long that modern batsmen can play the waiting game, though. After having left deliveries for an eternity outside the off stump, Onkar Gurav fell after getting too far across to work a delivery on the leg side. Even Jaffer, of all batsmen, went chasing a rare wide delivery without moving his feet.

After all this, Mumbai still had time left for one more defensive move. With more than 20 minutes left for stumps after the dismissal of Suryakumar Yadav, they sent in a nightwatchman. That he lasted only one delivery is a different matter.

The point is that even by the conservative standards of Mumbai captains of the past, Jaffer's approach bordered on the extreme. It cost them the chance to take control of the quarter-final. It may or may not cost them a place in the semi-final. And for the record, Sudhindra was finally out caught. Not in the deep, but in the slip cordon.

Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo