A century of wins at the Gardens of Eden

Mumbai Indians prevailed over the Kolkata Knight Riders to secure top spot on the ladder for Indian Premier League (IPL 2017). In the process, the Mumbai Indians managed to notch up their 100th win in T20s, the first team to do so.

The Eden Gardens’ ground staff did a fantastic job ensuring the delay due to showers before the scheduled start did not unduly affect the start off time. Rohit Sharma called incorrectly at the toss and Gautam Gambhir opted to bowl first on a rock-hard surface. After with persisting with a fairly set playing XI throughout the tournament (barring loss of injury or form), there were 5 changes in the mix for this game. Notably, Ambati Rayudu returned after injury and Saurabh Tiwary was drafted in to play his first IPL match for Mumbai in over 2500 days.

There was a bit of a surprise to see Saurabh Tiwary partnering Lendl Simmons at the top of the order and at first, he was circumspect against Trent Boult. The Kiwi left-arm quick was getting the ball to shape away beautifully from the left-handed Tiwary. The first over was dutifully played out, with Simmons and Tiwary not keen on taking undue risks. It would prove to be Kiwis from both ends as Colin de Grandhomme was preferred to Umesh Yadav to open the bowling alongside Boult. Tiwary sweetly timed the first ball for four to calm down his nerves. De Grandhomme’s fourth ball also travelled to the fence, courtesy a less-than-assured slash over slips for the second boundary of the over. Mumbai were on their way at 12 without loss after the second over.

Boult struck pay-dirt in his second over by getting rid of the dangerous Lendl Simmons for a 5-ball duck. Rohit Sharma walked out into the middle, with the Knight Riders well-aware of his affinity for this ground. Rohit showed just why in the next over, as a fullish Umesh Yadav ball that strayed onto the captain’s pads was delightfully flicked for a boundary. Saurabh Tiwary seemed to find his groove as he dispatched Yadav’s last ball of his first over for a cover drive: Mumbai were now going at 8 runs an over after the end of 4 overs.

Gambhir opted for Sunil Narine to try and stem the runs by getting him to bowl the fifth over. Rohit’s frailty against quality spin has been a talking point this season, but he made it a point to hit the West Indian off his line. The third ball was slog-swept for a boundary as 7 runs were recorded off his first over. A brace of boundaries, including the first six of the match off Umesh Yadav, rounded out the powerplay for Mumbai Indians with the score being a healthy 51/1.

Rohit Sharma and Saurabh Tiwary were content rotating the strike whilst hitting the odd boundary that came their way. With Kuldeep Yadav failing to make an impact, Ankit Rajpoot was brought on to bowl the ninth over of the innings. Gambhir’s hunch paid off, with Rajpoot sneaking in a split-finger cutter that completely outfoxed the skipper to send him back for a fluent 27. This was a crucial blow for the Knight Riders as the Rohit and Saurabh put on 57 runs in just 6 overs. Ambati Rayudu joined Saurabh Tiwary to try and continue the run-scoring.

Rayudu and Tiwary managed to tick the scoreboard over without taking undue risks. Kuldeep Yadav’s second over went for 7 runs, with all six deliveries being scored off. Ankit Rajpoot’s second over went for the same margin and Mumbai were 86/2 after the eleventh over. Gautam Gambhir opted to replace Kuldeep Yadav with Sunil Narine in the search for another wicket and got one to viciously spin in to Rayudu who could only edge it. Unfortunately for KKR, Uthappa failed to hang on to a very tough chance and Rayudu survived. Rayudu immediately cashed in off the next ball by slogging Narine to cow-corner for a boundary to signal a momentum shift. Saurabh Tiwary was progressing serenely at the other end and was looking good for a fifty in his first innings on return for the Mumbai Indians.

Despite this, the KKR bowlers were slowly reigning things in during this phase of the match. The 13th and 14th overs, bowled by Rajpoot and Umesh Yadav respectively, went for just a combined 11 runs. With the run-rate at 7-and-a0half runs to the over at the end of the 14th over, Rayudu and Tiwary upped the ante in the 14th over. Rayudu decided to take on Sunil Narine and slammed a boundary off the second ball, before Tiwary slammed successive fours off the final two balls to register his fifty on return for the Mumbai Indians.

Ambati Rayudu continued from where he left off in the 14th over with a pair of boundaries off Umesh Yadav, before disaster struck. The last ball of Umesh’s final over was a lifter that Rayudu bottomed edge to the leg side. Rayudu sprinted for the single, which in fairness was on, but Tiwary was unfortunately ball-watching and was slow to realise the opportunity at hand. Umesh Yadav made no mistake by running out Tiwary, but not before he scored 52 precious runs against a good attack, which would do him the world of good. The score was 130/3 at the end of the sixteenth over.

Kieron Pollard joined Ambati Rayudu at the crease, with Sunil Narine bowling out in the 17th over. Despite a boundary off the first ball, Rayudu and Pollard were content in nudging it around as his four overs cost his team 37 runs, not the returns that he (and KKR) would have wanted. Trent Boult was brought on to close out the innings by bowling the 18th and 20th overs. Till this point, he had been a potent force with the new ball with figures of 1/8 off his first couple of overs.

Rayudu didn’t give a jot for what happened previously and welcomed the Kiwi back with a ferocious drive through extra-cover. Rayudu then arguably played the shot of the innings, with a nonchalant walk across his stumps to flick a full ball for six over deep backward square-leg’s head. That shot also brought up Rayudu’s fifty, off just 32 balls. Kieron Pollard weighed in too, with a brutal pull to ensure MI plundered 18 runs off Boult’s third over. The momentum was well and truly back with Mumbai with the score 157/3 with two overs to go. 180 was looking possible at this stage.

Gambhir decided to bowl Kuldeep Yadav to bowl the penultimate over and it was a mixed bag for both teams. Mumbai, through Rayudu, managed 11 runs (10 off Rayudu’s blade), but Kuldeep got his man after Rayudu failed to get bat on ball and Uthappa effected a facile stumping. Hardik Pandya walked out to the crease, but it was too much to expect him to smash his first ball out of the park off the quality chinaman. Trent Boult found his radar in the 20th over with a quality over as Mumbai only managed a paltry 5 runs to round out their innings at 173. Given the early departure of Lendl Simmons, Mumbai could take heart from the team stitching together three quality stands thereafter and not succumbing to pressure.

174 was the target for Kolkata to chase down at their home ground. With two of the most effective openers witnessed this season, the onus was on the quicks to deliver an early breakthrough for Mumbai. Narine had been a tour de force for the Knight Riders, but tonight wasn’t his night. Tim Southee was getting wicked swing with the new ball, but a banged in delivery accounted for the dangerous Narine: After three successive dots, the fourth one hit high on Narine’s bat and unfortunately for the Trinidadian, all he could do was spoon it to Hardik Pandya. Southee was bang-on with the remainder of his over and delivered the third maiden for Mumbai this IPL: A perfect start.

Mitchell Johnson bounded in to share bowling duties with Southee. Despite starting well (his first three deliveries went for just 3 balls), Gautam Gambhir crashed a brace of fours to get the Knight Riders’ innings off eventually. Chris Lynn had had enough of Southee’s dots and immediately dispatched him for six, before carting for a towering six and four to ransack 19 runs off the third over (and Southee’s second). Karn Sharma was brought on to bowl the fourth over and started well with just five runs conceded off it. Gambhir emulated Lynn by smashing a six off the first ball of the over before Johnson wound back the clock and with a little extra zip off the surface coaxed the Knight Riders’ captain into top-edging a pull to Karn Sharma who took a magnificent catch that went up miles in the air. There’s little doubt that that catch would have brought a seal of approval from Jonty Rhodes.

Despite this Lynn was looking in imperious touch: He dispatched Johnson for back-to-back boundaries to ensure that Gambhir’s wicket didn’t lead to a fall in the manic run-scoring. At the end of the fourth over, Lynn had faced only 10 balls, but had spanked 24 runs, courtesy 3 fours and 2 massive sixes. At the other end, it was a different story: Uthappa, the new man at the crease was struggling to emulate the burly Australian and was out with an ungainly heave to take advantage of the fielding restrictions. Kolkata were 53/3 at the end of the powerplay, with Yusuf Pathan joining Lynn at the crease.

The big breakthrough came two balls later, though, as Vinay Kumar got Lynn to pick out Jagadeesha Suchith at deep midwicket. Kolkata had sunk to 53/4 and were in danger of falling apart. It fell on Manish Pandey and Yusuf Pathan to resurrect the KKR innings. It was clear Yusuf would be the enforcer, whilst Manish would be rotating the strike. Things came to a head in the 8th over as both batsmen combined to loot 17 runs off Karn Sharma’s third over, with KKR managing to keep well ahead of the required run rate.

Vinay Kumar was at it again as his second over brought on another wicket. This time it was Yusuf Pathan who fell to the right-arm seamer, to give Hardik Pandya his second catch of the night. Yusuf Pathan’s innings was as explosive as it was brief with the burly all-rounder managing 20 runs off just 7 balls. With KKR 87/5 at the end of the 9th over, Colin de Grandhomme joined Manish Pandey. Rohit opted for Krunal Pandya to take pace off the ball and provide some much-needed control. To his credit, Pandya bowled beautifully conceding just 5 runs as both batsmen failed to hit him off his length and line. Nevertheless, the equation was still facile for KKR at the halfway mark of the innings: 82 runs required from 60 balls.

Colin de Grandhomme made the equation easier still with a calculated assault on Vinay Kumar’s third over. Taking advantage of the nature of the pitch, de Grandhomme spanked three fours of this over with the last one being the best of the lot: A gorgeous guide between point and short third-man. De Grandhomme ensured that Krunal’s second over was more profitable for KKR as another steer brought another boundary for the Kiwi all-rounder. He repeated the dose off Krunal’s brother, Hardik with a pull that sailed into the crowd. The equation was worryingly easy for KKR, with 48 runs were required off the last 7 overs.

It’s at this point where Mitchell Johnson proved his worth. He didn’t take a wicket, but recognizing that extra pace on the ball made run-scoring easier, Johnson throttled back and cleverly mixed up his pace and lengths to concede just 2 runs off the 14th over. Rohit then brought back Hardik Pandya to bowl the 15th over. The move paid off handsomely as Hardik got the first ball to spear through de Grandhomme’s defenses and splattered the Kiwi’s stumps. Pandya didn’t relent as he conceded just 3 runs off the next 5 balls to peg the Knight Riders back. They now needed 8.60 runs per over of the remaining 5 overs.

Rohit entrusted Johnson to bowl out and Johnson, to his credit, did just that. The sixteenth over of the innings was an extension of his previous over (the fourteenth), with Johnson not giving an inch to the opposition. After conceding 24 runs off his first two overs, Johnson conceded just 6 runs in his next 2 overs. At the end of his spell, his figures of 1/30 off 4 overs accurately reflect his impact this innings: effective, yet economical.

The equation was starting to get out of hand for the Knight Riders. They now required nearly 10 an over, but with Manish Pandey at the crease, the expectation was that he would carry them through. Tim Southee unfortunately slipped up a bit, conceding 14 runs off the 17th over, courtesy a brace of boundaries, one apiece by Pandey and new-man, Kuldeep Yadav. The equation again became more manageable: Just 25 runs off the final 3 overs.

Hardik specifically wanted to contribute more with the ball, as per his pre-match interview and did just that for his team. He dug in a shortish ball to key-man Pandey who jabbed it straight down Suchith’s throat at deep mid-wicket to completely change the complexion of the match. KKR could only manage 4 runs off the remainder of the over as the Yadavs, Kuldeep and Umesh struggled to time the ball. Tim Southee got Kuldeep Yadav out the next over to reduce KKR to 158/8, whilst conceding just 7 runs off the penultimate over.

With Hardik to bowl out the final over, with 14 runs to defend against Trent Boult and Umesh Yadav, it would always be a tough ask for KKR to pull off a victory. Hardik’s final over was a testament to his death-bowling skills, with just 4 measly runs conceded. Mumbai had won at Eden Gardens against a rampant KKR by the slim margin of 9 runs.
Given the significant role team momentum plays in the Indian Premier League, one cannot overstate just how important this victory was to the team. Statistically, this was the 100th victory for the Mumbai Indians across all tournaments, but more importantly players off the bench contributed significantly to this win: Saurabh Tiwary’s return in Mumbai colours and Rayudu’s return after injury showcased the depth of this squad and the surfeit of options Mumbai has at their disposal. Most importantly, Mumbai’s happy knack of pulling off victories after looking second-best to do so will give the coaching staff, the fans and most importantly, the players renewed self-belief. This win could not have come at a more important time for the team and only time will tell whether we face Sunrisers Hyderabad or Rising Pune Supergiant in the first Qualifier on Tuesday. What’s not in doubt is that we take top spot on the ladder, some what may. Additionally, we will have the luxury of a second match in case we slip up in the first qualifier. We will obviously not want to bank on that safety net and would want to go through to the final held in Hyderabad on the 21st of May.


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