4-in-4 as Hitman returns

Mumbai Indians gave the 18,000 children in attendance, courtesy Education For All, the perfect gift with a challenging win over the Gujarat Lions, earlier today. Rohit won his fourth consecutive toss of IPL 2017 and for the fourth consecutive time, he had no hesitation in putting the opposition into bat. It was time to set history right as Gujarat Lions had prevailed over MI the two times these two sides met last season. It’s also noteworthy to remember that Gujarat Lions are the last team to have defeated MI at their Wankhede fortress.

Mumbai Indians started well with the ball, with Mitchell McClenaghan getting rid of the dangerous Dwayne Smith of the second legitimate ball of the match. A short and wide delivery was dispatched uppishly straight to Nitish Rana at backward point, who took a smart catch above his head. This represented the first powerplay wicket for the team since last Sunday’s match against the Knight Riders. Lasith Malinga opened from the other end, but began expensively leaking 12 runs of his first over, which would unfortunately be a theme upon his return from illness.

Harbhajan Singh was brought into the attack soon thereafter, given his record against Raina in the past (Bhajji had dismissed Raina four times previously in the IPL) and to take pace off the ball. His first over was control exemplified, 3 runs being eked out by the GL batsmen and the score read 24/1 after 4 overs. Rohit decided to give Malinga a change of ends, but Slinga ceded two sixes to McCullum, one over point, the other, an imperious pull over deep midwicket.

McCullum was looking dangerous, but Raina was struggling to time the ball fluently. After the powerplay, GL were 46/1, a good score, given their early hiccup. Realising that pace off the ball was the way to go, Rohit decided to opt for spin from both ends, with Harbhajan and Krunal operating in tandem. Unfortunately, both were guilty of bowling the odd boundary ball in the over and at the end of the 10th over, Gujarat were 75/1 with McCullum two away from a fifty and Raina providing good support.

Rohit decided to gamble on past history and bowl Harbhajan out, in the hope that his leading spinner would strike. Fortunately, Harbhajan managed to do so, off the first ball of his final over. Bhajji floated up a delivery outside off and Raina, going at a run-a-ball before this, was baited and went after the ball. Rohit Sharma made a high-pressure catch look simple and Gujarat had lost their second wicket. It also meant that Raina had fallen to Harbhajan for the 5th time in the IPL and no other bowler has dismissed him more.

In walked Ishan Kishan, with many expecting Jason Roy to come in. McCullum watchfully played out the rest of Harbhajan’s over and he ended with the enviable figures of 1/22 off 4 overs. Rohit immediately brought on Jasprit Bumrah to unsettle the new batsman, but Bumrah was having a hit-and-miss sort of match, missing his trademark yorker length. Malinga was brought on to try and prise a wicket out: Again, the hunch paid off, with Malinga getting rid of the dangerous McCullum with a pin-point accurate yorker that shattered the Kiwi’s stumps. McCullum departed for a well-made 64 and looked the most fluent batsman in the innings, up to that point.

Dinesh Karthik, slotted in at number 5, hit the ground running. He improvised well against a Hardik lifter to scoop our man for six and Gujarat were back in the game at 120/3 after 15 overs. McClenaghan came back into the attack and yet again was immaculate: His 3rd over (and the 16th of the innings) went for just 6 runs. At the other end, Bumrah missed his length and conceded 19 runs, with a trio of boundaries conceded. Dinesh Karthik skipped along to 33 off 17, proving to be a thorn in Mumbai’s side. Ishan Kishan, on the other hand, was struggling to truly get going and ended up spooning a slow McClenaghan bouncer to Krunal Pandya in the deep. Jason Roy finally walked into bat at number 6, with just 14 balls left in the innings.

Lasith Malinga was entrusted to bowl the 19th over of the innings, a crucial one in any situation. For 5 of the 6 balls, he was immaculate, conceding just 7 runs. Unfortunately for him and MI, his last ball of his spell missed its mark and Jason Roy slogged it just over the boundary for 6. Bumrah’s final over went for 10 runs as Dinesh Karthik fell two short of a deserved 50, remaining not out on 48. Gujarat Lions staged a remarkable comeback, given their early hiccup, to end up with 176/4 at the end of their allocated 20 overs.

It would take something special to ensure that the chasing team would prevail for the 7th consecutive time at the Wankhede in the IPL. Unfortunately for MI, GL started on the front foot, with Parthiv Patel not being able to provide the sort of starts the IPL has been accustomed to see this season. Praveen Kumar got a ball to grip a bit and out-foxed Parthiv into spooning a simple catch, to Jason Roy at point. Nitish Rana didn’t let the early breakthrough distract him and after a testing few balls from the impressive Basil Thampi, got into his groove with a full-blooded drive down the ground in the second over.

After a testing first over, Praveen Kumar was expected to continue in the same vein, but with a southpaw (Rana) and a right-hander (Buttler) to bowl at, he lost his line and bowled 4 consecutive wide balls. The extras were a welcome addition to MI’s total, given the pressure that had been building up since the innings began.

Munaf Patel, who was playing his first IPL match since playing for MI in 2013, came on to bowl the 4th over. Jos Buttler took full-toll of an angled-down-the-leg delivery for four, but in general his comeback over was tidy. Nitish Rana launched into Basil Thampi’s next over to ramp a back-of-the-length ball for six, before repeating the dose off a slower ball, hitting a fabulous inside-out shot over extra-cover. Andrew Tye, fresh from earning the best bowling figures on IPL debut, was sent crashing back down to earth with a Rana pull that went sailing into the crowd for another towering six. At the end of the powerplay, MI had lost the same number of wickets as Gujarat did, but scored 10 runs more.

Raina immediately brought on Jadeja, with the expectation to dry up the runs, just as Harbhajan and Krunal managed for MI. Jadeja did just that and only 7 runs resulted, although Rana and Buttler seemed content to knock the ball around the field to tick the score along. Nitish Rana brought up his second fifty of IPL 2017 with a delicate late-cut off a Jadeja arm-ball. It clearly meant a lot to the youngster as he took his helmet off and tapped his chest and along the way, he managed to wrest the Orange Cap from KKR’s Gautam Gambhir. Buttler rounded out Jadeja’s second over with a hoick over long-on for a massive six and MI were cruising along at 9.44 runs an over after 9 overs, with the equation being 92 runs required off 66 balls.

Unfortunately for Rana and MI, Andrew Tye got his man the next over itself. Tye’s knuckle balls bamboozled Rising Pune Supergiant at the death in Gujarat’s last match, with another one accounting for Rana. The youngster made a courageous 53 off 36, but would no doubt have loved to score some more. Rohit Sharma, walked into bat, with a point to prove.

They say a tiger that is cornered is at its most dangerous. Rohit was under some pressure to post a significant score and he answered his critics with a composed innings of 40 off 29 balls. Beginning sedately with 3 runs of his first 5 balls, Rohit got into the groove with a chopped shot for four off Munaf Patel. Unfortunately for MI, Buttler was dismissed in the same over, which brought Pollard on, fresh from his heroics against RCB a couple of nights ago.

Pollard and Rohit wound back the clock and combined for an entertaining 68-run stand in just 7 overs. Pollard’s swagger was in full view as he smacked Munaf Patel for a flat six over midwicket and followed that up against Dwayne Smith & Andrew Tye. Tye unfortunately had the last laugh when he accounted for the big Trinidadian, but not before Pollard had plundered 39 off 23 balls.

By this time, Rohit had spent enough time at the crease to ensure that Pollard’s wicket did not halt MI’s momentum. He calmly shepherded Mumbai home, along with yet another not out for Hardik Pandya who is still yet to be dismissed this season, with 3 balls to spare.

Everything seems to be clicking in place for the team, which has managed to string together four consecutive victories and finds itself perched on top of the IPL table, for the time being at least. It meant that for the seventh consecutive game at the Wankhede, the chasing team had prevailed. The show now moves on to Indore on Thursday, with Mumbai Indians taking on Glenn Maxwell’s Kings XI Punjab, with the boys earning a well-earned 4-day break!



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