A test of McClenaghan's slog-overs smarts
Twenty20 cricket is a freakish format, where your best-laid plans can go to waste if the execution is marginally wrong. Ask Mumbai Indians fast bowler Mitchell McClenaghan. In the first Qualifier against Rising Pune Supergiant, McClenaghan clattered through the defences of Rahul Tripathi with a big inswinger in his first over. His first three overs went for 20, and he came on to bowl the 19th over with Rising Pune at 121 for 3 and desperate for a late dash. McClenaghan had sound plans against MS Dhoni and Manoj Tiwary, but his execution was awry. He leaked 26 runs and suddenly the game changed.
McClenaghan began that 19th over aiming for a yorker first ball but overpitched and watched as Tiwary swung the beamer to the long-leg boundary. The next ball - a free-hit - offered plenty of width, and Tiwary hoisted it over the bowler's head for a six. When Dhoni got the strike, McClenaghan finally nailed a yorker, which whooshed past the batsman's feet. The fourth delivery was a length ball, which was swatted over the midwicket boundary. McClenaghan then switched to Plan B: bowl short and wide, and make Dhoni fetch it. While it appeared logical, McClenaghan ended up bowling two consecutive wides and then panicked and bowled two more length balls, one of which was taken for six. It allowed Rising Pune to run away with the advantage and barge into their first IPL final.
McClenaghan is the third-highest wicket-taker this season with 19 wickets in 14 matches, but is prone to leaking runs in the slog overs. His five most expensive overs have all come between overs 15 and 20, and he has an economy rate of 9.50 in this phase of the innings, the second highest among bowlers who have bowled at least 15 overs. He has also bowled 15 extras in the end overs; only Bhuvneshwar Kumar (17) has bowled more.
In the middle overs, his returns are worse: one wicket at an economy rate of 12.60. McClenaghan has been most penetrative in the Powerplay, claiming 10 of his 19 wickets in this period at an economy rate of 7.95. In fact, no bowler has taken more wickets than McClenaghan in the Powerplay this season.
So, perhaps, a case can be made for Mumbai to extract the best out of him with the new ball. Remember, he opened the bowling in the first 22 ODIs he played for New Zealand, and claimed 48 wickets at an economy rate of 5.82 and strike-rate of 23.5.
But, with Lasith Malinga himself missing his lengths and conceding at an economy rate of 12 in the slog overs, Mumbai have needed McClenaghan and Jasprit Bumrah. Of the pair, Bumrah has easily been the more impressive, giving away only 8.91 runs an over in this phase.
McClenaghan's regulation pace has allowed the batsmen to line him up better this season. Perhaps he could do well to mix up his pace more, like he did at the World Twenty20 in India last year. His accurate lengths and cutters were so effective that Tim Southee and Trent Boult did not get a game, and New Zealand ultimately made the semi-finals, where they were knocked out by England. Against Australia on a slow track in Dharamsala, McClenaghan cramped the right-hand batsmen with slower short balls, and fooled left-handed batsman Ashton Agar with legcutters. With Australia needing 22 from 12 balls in a chase of 143, McClenaghan took the wickets of Mitchell Marsh and Agar in five balls while conceding just three off a stellar penultimate over. Corey Anderson eventually closed out the eight-run win for New Zealand.
Much like that tricky Dharamsala pitch, the M Chinnaswamy track hasn't allowed batsmen to time the ball this season. Some balls have stuck in the surface, while others have skidded on. Many quicks have taken advantage of this with cutters and cross-seamers. A return to Bangalore might trigger happy memories for McClenaghan: only last month he dismissed Virat Kohli and Mandeep Singh in two slog overs in his side's four-wicket win over Royal Challengers Bangalore. He nabbed Kohli with a wide ball - possibly wider than a set of stumps outside off - for 62 and then had Mandeep dragging a back-of-a-length ball onto the stumps for a duck.
McClenaghan has the skills and the smarts. He might even have a bunch of plans at the death against Kolkata Knight Riders on Friday. But, it all boils down to execution. This time, though, there will be no second chances for him and his team: it's boom or bust.
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo