Brilliance in Bengaluru

Mumbai Indians (MI) are making a habit of snatching victories from the jaws of defeat in IPL 2017, with the team pulling off a tense 4 wicket victory against the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium. Coming into the match, history was on Mumbai’s side given that it had won 6 of 7 matches against the home side at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium. Rohit called correctly at the toss and had no hesitation in putting RCB into bat. RCB sprung a surprise by omitting their captain from the earlier part of the tournament, Shane Watson, and bringing in West Indian tweaker, Samuel Badree. Chris Gayle and Virat Kohli also marked their return to the RCB starting XI. For Mumbai Indians Lasith Malinga was replaced by Tim Southee in the playing XI. The Sri Lankan spearhead was not feeling well and a like-for-like replacement was thus the reasoning behind Southee’s entry.

The West Indian behemoth (Gayle) and the Indian Test skipper (Kohli) opened the batting, a departure from the previous match where RCB had Shane Watson and Vishnu Vinod had opened the batting. Tim Southee started proceedings for MI and immediately found life and movement in the pitch with a ball that seamed away sharply in the first over. Despite a couple of wide balls, RCB played the Kiwi circumspectly and only 6 runs were managed off the first over of the innings.

Harbhajan Singh’s stellar IPL record against Chris Gayle was a factor in captain Rohit Sharma bringing him on immediately to take on the dangerous batsman. The first 4 balls that Harbhajan bowled to Gayle were all dots and RCB ended the second over at 7 without loss. Kohli broke the shackles immediately thereafter with a beautiful lofted shot off Tim Southee first up, followed by an imperious pull and a wristy flick, both resulting in boundaries. The run rate after three overs read a healthy 8.00 runs per over.

As Harbhajan sought a change of ends, Mitchell McClenaghan bowled a solid opening over keeping the dangerous duo to just 4 runs of the over. More importantly, Gayle was on strike first ball of Harbhajan’s second over. Unfortunately for MI, Gayle crashed a short and wide offering to the point boundary, off his first ball. Bhajji tightened things up thereafter and managed to keep RCB down to just 2 runs off the remaining 5 balls. At the end of the powerplay, on a slightly two-paced track, MI had restricted RCB to just 41 runs. Importantly, for RCB, MI were yet to break the opening stand.

Despite this, Harbhajan Singh and Jasprit Bumrah managed to keep Gayle and Kohli away from truly dominating the match, a huge Gayle six over his nemesis notwithstanding. Rohit decided to gamble on bowling Harbhajan out before the 10th over, but had no luck in dislodging the fluent Kohli, or the resolute Gayle and when Hardik Pandya was brought on to bowl immediately after Harbhajan finished his spell, Mumbai were desperate for a wicket.

That wicket came shortly after as a banged-in short ball caught the edge of a wild Gayle pull. Gayle’s uncharacteristically sedate innings was over at 22 and he fell 3 runs short of becoming the first batsmen to reach 10,000 T20 runs. RCB found themselves at 63/1 and at cross-roads in the innings. Krunal Pandya came onto bowl immediately afterwards, Rohit again banking on the knowledge of new batsman Ab de Villiers’ uncertainty against slow left arm orthodox bowlers.

Kohli and de Villiers had stitched together memorable stands in the past at this stadium, but today struggled to impose themselves on the disciplined MI attack. The Pandya brothers bowled the 11th and 12th overs which both went for just 5 runs apiece. Something had to give and AB decided to go after Krunal, who had dismissed the belligerent South African twice before in IPLs. However, despite Krunal out-foxing AB in the air, Jos Buttler failed to cling onto a difficult chance at long-on and was given a life. The pressure was released and RCB managed to eke out 8 runs off the remaining 4 balls of the 13th over as they skipped on to 85/1.

The next over was cathartic for RCB, with de Villiers & Kohli taking full toll of Bumrah’s slip-ups in length and line. Amidst the carnage, Kohli brought up his fifty on return to the IPL, off just 39 balls. Kohli’s luck ran out the next over, with the skipper caught (on the second attempt) by Jos Buttler, partially atoning for his drop earlier in the innings. His dismissal in the 16th over precipitated a collapse of sorts, where RCB went from 110/1 to 127/5 in a little under 3 overs. Mitchell McClenaghan was on-song for Mumbai at the death, with the final over of his spell (and penultimate of the innings) going for just 5 measly runs. His spell of 2/20 off 4 overs were the most economical in RCB’s innings and was crucial in limiting RCB to just 28 runs, whilst losing 3 wickets in the last 5 overs of their innings. RCB ultimately ended with 142 on the board, failing to hit a boundary off their last 32 balls.

In years gone by, a total of 142 to defend would be unthinkable on the old Chinnaswamy pitch, given its lightning fast outfield, small boundaries and true pitch. This pitch, however, already began to shown signs of wear and tear during the first innings.

Samuel Badree opened the bowling for RCB, with his bowling action and temperament suited to such an occasion. His first over was akin to a sniper finding his range, before wreaking havoc on MI’s top order. Incidentally, it was Stuart Binny’s canny medium pacers that prised open the line-up, with Jos Buttler failing to keep a wristy flick down and Gayle completing a facile catch at midwicket.

Badree’s second over completely changed the complexion of the match. An early wicket to fall wouldn’t have troubled the MI setup unduly, but to lose 3 wickets (in a hat-trick) in an over, that too two vital cogs in the batting setup (Parthiv & Rohit), was devastating for MI’s run-rate and self-confidence. In a nutshell, MI went from 7/1 to 8/4 in the space of 6 balls. The experiment to promote McClenaghan, a-la Sunil Narine against KXIP, sadly proved to be a failure.

Kieron Pollard walked in much earlier than he (and MI) would have wanted him to. He and Nitish Rana combined to steady the ship, but whenever Badree was bowling on this pitch, he always seemed a chance to add to his hat-trick. Virat adroitly decided to bowl him out and after a wicketless third over, added to his tally off the final ball of his spell. The West Indian tweaker managed simply incredible figures: 4-1-9-4. These were the best figures by a foreign bowler for RCB in all editions of the IPL and in the process, he took the league’s 15th hat-trick.

The silver lining for Mumbai was that Virat could not bowl Badree anymore. He brought on Sreenath Aravind and kept on cycling through his bowlers: from the 8th over till the 14th over, Kohli did not allow any bowler to bowl back-to-back overs from the same end. Despite this, Krunal and Pollard hunkered down and stitched together Mumbai’s first 50-run stand of the game. Pollard’s priceless ability to seize the moment was in view when he clobbered Pawan Negi’s last ball of the 14th over for six.

Tymal Mills came on to bowl the 15th over with MI needing a daunting 63 off 36 balls. Mills’ first 3 balls were bang on, and MI could only manage 2 runs, but the fourth ball missed its mark and Krunal Pandya took full toll on a full ball, crashing it past mid-off for a boundary. 2 balls later, Pollard walked at the bowler and used the angle to flick a ball angling into his pads for a boundary. The equation read a more manageable 52 off 5 overs.

Kohli made the fateful decision to bowl Negi again in the 16th over. The facts read thus: 19 runs, 2 wides, 2 sixes. Pollard brought up his fifty with a flat six off the penultimate ball of Negi’s 2nd over and followed that up next ball with a monster six over long-off. If matches could be condensed down to turning points, Pollard’s twin towering blows would surely make be this. The equation now was a simple 33 off 4 overs.

Despite RCB claiming the scalp of Pollard in the 18th over, it was a case of too little, too late. Pollard’s 70 off 47 balls represented the second highest score by an MI player at the Chinnaswamy stadium against Royal Challengers Bangalore. More importantly, it ensured MI’s amazing record at the Chinnaswamy read 7 wins out of 8 matches. Finally, being able to win a match after being 7/4 in the powerplay, speaks volumes of the ability of the team to soak up pressure situations and thrive in them. For good measure, Hardik Pandya finished off yet another match in style, with a towering six over long-on.

Ultimately, Mumbai’s win was best summed up by the opposition captain, who said “They deserved to win, they showed character.” Mumbai now head back to the Wankhede Stadium on Sunday to play the Gujarat Lions, having recorded their best start to a season since 2013, when they too won 3 of their first 4 matches. The cherry on top? We’re back where we belong, at the top of the table, at the moment!



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