cricket:image:1428434 [900x506]
cricket:image:1428434 [900x506] (Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

Anthony Edwards memorable slogan takes over Minnesota

Bat up the order? Yes, sir.

Demolish spin in the middle? No problem.

Turn up at the death and smash sixes? Sure.

Floating in the batting line-up is one of the most difficult jobs in T20 cricket, and Ambati Rayudu did it for two of the most successful franchises in the IPL - Mumbai Indians and CSK. He is now retired, but Daryl Mitchell is easing himself into that role for CSK.

Mitchell himself has been New Zealand's do-it-all man for a while. He opened the batting for them in his first ICC tournament - the T20 World Cup in the UAE in 2021 - and in the ODI World Cup last year he was the most prolific middle-order batter. His versatility tempted CSK to bid up to INR 14 crore for him at the last IPL auction.

There has been a bit of outside noise around Mitchell not getting a big score yet this IPL. The directive, though, from coach Stephen Fleming to the middle-order batters is clear: make small but quick contributions across the board to reach a big total. Mitchell has produced some cameos so far, helping CSK to three wins in five matches. The approach makes sense because CSK have batting depth all the way down to No. 10 or No. 11. Why not make full use of it?

"I am six foot three, I am 100 kgs. So, it's making sure I use my size and my base and finding ways to put pressure back on the spinners in my own way," Mitchell told reporters in Chennai before CSK's third home game, against KKR. "And also learning off other players around the world. We have obviously got a guy called Kane Williamson in our team back home.

"He is a pretty good player of spin and I have learned a lot off him, but also watching other players all around the world to see how they go about different conditions, and you're trying to adapt that to your game."

On Monday against KKR, Mitchell was bumped up to No. 3 instead of Ajinkya Rahane, who had spent a substantial amount of time off the field with a niggle. CSK were 27 for 1 in the fourth over, chasing 138 on a sluggish, grippy Chepauk pitch. The new ball was still doing a bit and captain Ruturaj Gaikwad had decided to anchor the chase in the absence of Rahane.

It was over to Mitchell to take risks and disrupt KKR's bowling. Sunil Narine, with 538 (!) T20 wickets, was up against him, with a wide long-on in place. Mitchell didn't care. He charged at Narine, used his reach to meet an into-the-pitch offbreak early and launched him into the stands beyond long-on.

That shot forced Narine to dart a slider at middle stump, but Mitchell reverse-swept from the stumps and picked it away to the right of short third and left of deep point. He took 13 off Narine's first over.

When Mitchell stepped out to Narine once again in his next over, he did not meet the pitch of the ball and was bowled for 25 off 19 balls. But the damage had been done. Mitchell had scored 17 of those against Narine off just eight balls at a strike rate of 212.50. It wasn't quite Rayudu vs Rashid Khan, but Mitchell's attacking intent aligned with CSK's approach.

"It's just, again, trying to be as present as you can in that moment," Mitchell said of his game plan against spin. "And working out what their threats are to you as a batsman and trying to find ways to put pressure back on them. That's the nature of the game that we play. Sometimes it can look ugly, but you get the runs and get the job done and other times it looks beautiful. So, it's just working out what's the surface doing, what are the bowlers trying to do to get me out, and I will keep trying to find ways to put pressure back on them as well."

Mitchell has batted in four different positions in five innings so far for CSK. But if Rahane is fit to play in Mumbai, where the pitch is usually quicker and bouncier than Chennai's, or if Shivam Dube is to be pushed up to counter spin, Mitchell might have to slide down the order on Sunday.

"It doesn't worry me where I bat in the order," Mitchell said. "I am a competitor at heart, that's what drives me. So, whatever role I've got to do for the team to help us try and win games of cricket, I'll do that. Whether it's opening, batting at No. 3, No. 4, No. 5 or No. 6."

Mitchell has also pitched in with the ball and has manned the hotspots in the outfield. CSK's team management believes that Mitchell has the game to succeed across conditions, which is why they also picked him for their affiliate, Texas Super Kings, in the MLC, even before he had made his IPL debut for them.

The last time Mitchell and the Wankhede came together, he cracked 134 and gave India a scare in the ODI World Cup semi-finals last year. His role at CSK in the IPL is different, and another rapid cameo with a risk-taking appetite would do for them against an MI side that also drips with batting depth and power.

Life after Rayudu isn't looking too bad after all for CSK.