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Match Analysis

Shokeen and Kartikeya provide exciting glimpse of Mumbai's future spin core

The rookie pair successfully applied the freeze on Royals during the middle overs

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
Mumbai Indians' first win, at long last, came through spin against the best players of spin this IPL. Coming into this match, Rajasthan Royals had scored 9.36 runs per over against spin, having lost just seven wickets at an average of 62.85, all comfortably the best numbers among the 10 teams. The total experience put together between Mumbai's spinners? Ten T20 matches.
Hrithik Shokeen, who has learned old-school offspin from the old-school Maninder Singh, has been with the squad but made his T20 debut in the IPL. Left-arm wristspinner Kumar Kartikeya, who had played eight matches for Madhya Pradesh, only came in as a replacement player and impressed enough at the nets to get the IPL debut right away.
In the end, the two were outperformed by their experienced and decorated counterparts, R Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal, but in denying Royals their point of difference, the high run-rate in the middle overs, Shokeen and Kartikeya did an important job. They were both helped by the surface, but there is more to them than just the performance on the night.
Shokeen in particular has had everyone drooling with his dip and drift. Batters have consistently been coming forward to find out the ball has dropped short of their reach. On a night that he got hit for six sixes, Shokeen, playing just his third T20 match, has shown there is a lot to work with.
Daniel Vettori, a great fingerspinner himself and also an active T20 coach, feels the same.
"His seam release is as good as any you will see from an offspinner," Vettori said on ESPNcricinfo's analysis show T20 Time Out. "What will come with it is variations and the understanding of bowling to batters, use of the crease, use of round and over, but I think there is a bright future there for him.
"It is incredibly hard to get that seam position right. It brings in drift, it brings in a lot more revolutions, it brings in dip. So it challenges all batters not just left-hand batters. He will be the sort of bowler that can match up against right and left-handers as he goes along. Plus the fact that he bats. As always Mumbai Indians scout so well. Looks like they have got another one."
Just like the season that Mumbai are having, Shokeen found himself in the eye of the storm when given the 16th over with Jos Buttler desperate to break free. By the time he tried to start bowling defensively, Shokeen had already conceded three sixes.
"It looked like a very capable, inexperienced bowler bowling to one of the best batters in the world," Vettori said of that over. "So with maturity and experience he will understand that Jos Buttler is going to try to hit the first ball for six and then the second ball and the third ball and the fourth ball and so on and so forth. It looked like he was just looking to bowl that perfect ball to get him out. Whether he needed a little bit of advice, a little bit of help to get him through that over potentially."
With experience, Shokeen will surely become more aware of the limitations of fingerspinners in the T20 game. From Ashwin later in the night, he might have perhaps seen when to get out of an over and when to look for wickets. When you don't bowl the carrom ball, your accuracy as a fingerspinner, your great friend in first-class cricket, can become your enemy.
Wristspinners enjoy the benefits of imperfection. It is rare for them to perfect that release so it comes out slightly different each time. So apart from the variations, that imperfection creates unpredictability. That is what worked for Kartikeya when he got Sanju Samson out with a long hop the second ball he bowled in the IPL.
However, Kartikeya went on to show the various toys he carries in his bag. There was the regulation legbreak, the wrong'un, but also the fingerspun carrom ball and the odd seam-up delivery.
"It took about seven balls to work out what he was bowling," Vettori said. "He was left-arm everything. He started with his legspin, bowled a couple of seam-up balls, then he went to his carrom ball. Overall he used the surface as well as everyone.
"The batters kept searching for something, kept searching for a bad ball, and he never really gave it to them. Mitchell struggled against him and even Jos Buttler. Couldn't get away as much as he tried. That's credit to his deception - probably the first time every one is seeing him - but also he was just so consistent."
Not every pitch will help him so, not everyday will bring him figures of 4-0-19-1 but it is worth remembering that over a nine-match career now, his T20 economy rate is under six.
It was clear even on the auction day that Mumbai were going to struggle this year but it seemed they were willing to risk this season in order to build for the longer term. Their going for Jofra Archer when he was not going to be available this year was a clear example of that. This season might be gone, but signs are, they might have found a good spin-bowling core to compliment Archer and Jasprit Bumrah in the seasons to come.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo