Lucky 13 for MI

Coming into the penultimate home match for Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede Stadium, we had a 12-8 win-loss record against the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League. Despite an improved batting performance by the Royal Challengers Bangalore, we emerged victorious by 5 wickets, with just a solitary ball remaining. Additionally, it also meant the top-spot on the ladder was again ours, for the moment at least.

Virat Kohli called correctly at the toss and opted to bat first. Given the mixed record of teams chasing over the past five matches played at the Wankhede, it might be a good toss to lose, despite our captain indicating that he would have batted first as well. Karn Sharma was in the playing XI as Harbhajan Singh was ruled out of this fixture, injured. Interestingly, the wrecker-in-chief for RCB the last time we played them, Samuel Badree, was absent, replaced by the burly Shane Watson.

Mitchell McClenaghan opened proceedings against the duo of Mandeep Singh and Virat Kohli. The tired nature of this pitch was evident from the outset as Mandeep Singh and Virat struggled to time the ball from the outset, despite Mandeep managing a brace of fours off McClenaghan’s first over. Lasith Malinga, fresh from his superlative performance against the Lions over the weekend, came steaming in to complement McClenaghan. Despite a misdirected slow-yorker going for a boundary, his first over went for just four runs. Importantly for RCB, they got through the opening exchanges unscathed with the score 16/0 after the first 2 overs.

The third over of the innings saw Rohit opt for the pace of Hardik Pandya. Hardik, to his credit mixed his stock back-of-a-length deliveries with offcutters and just 5 runs were managed, with the sluggish nature of the pitch making timing the ball tricky. Karn Sharma was brought in to exploit the pitch in the fourth over and the move worked for Rohit and the Mumbai Indians. Despite Kohli managing a sweetly-timed lofted shot for six, Karn accounted for Mandeep Singh a couple of balls later, with a tossed-up leg-break deceiving Mandeep in the air and Hardik Pandya did the rest taking a facile catch. After the fourth over it was 31/1, with Travis Head joining skipper Kohli at the crease.

Jasprit Bumrah made it the 5th bowler used in the powerplay, but was welcomed to the crease with a lovely six off Kohli’s blade: The RCB skipper picking the slower ball and whipping it over mid-wicket for a massive six. Despite the assurance of that shot, Kohli would be completely deceived when McClenaghan returned to the crease for the final over of the powerplay. His first ball was a non-threatening delivery wide of Kohli’s legs that Kohli could have left alone, but opted to force it through the leg side. Unfortunately for him and RCB, all he could do was spoon it to Rohit Sharma at a shortish mid-wicket. Kohli’s disbelief at being dismissed was plain for everyone to see. In walked Mr. 360o, AB de Villiers. Looking to play with intent, AB struck back-to-back boundaries off McClenaghan and looked to be in good touch. RCB ended the sixth at 52/2, three more than what they managed in all against the Knight Riders.

Krunal Pandya’s record against AB might have prompted Rohit to bring him on straight-away. AB was wise to the move and opted to play cautiously, at first, and by the time the first strategic time-out was taken, it was 56/2 after seven overs, the run rate a healthy 8 runs an over. Lasith Malinga was brought back on to stymie AB and Head, but a low full toss was drilled past cover to spoil an otherwise good over. Krunal’s second over saw AB take the initiative as he dispatched the left-arm orthodox bowler for successive boundaries. At the end of the over, de Villiers had moved on to 30 off 16 balls and was looking good for a repeat of his heroics at the Wankhede in 2015.

Travis Head, on the other hand, was struggling to time the ball. Where de Villiers was almost striking at 2 runs-a-ball, Head was striking at not even one-third of that. Karn Sharma compounded his woes and the message to get a wriggle on was in evidence as he heaved Krunal for a slog-sweep for his first boundary. Fortunately, he couldn’t add to that as he holed out to Hardik Pandya at deep midwicket the very next delivery to end his disappointing stay at the wicket and RCB ended the 11th over at 87/3.

Mumbai have been experts at bottling up scoring during the middle stages of the IPL and today it was no different. The duo of Karn Sharma and Krunal bowled well in tandem with the accurate Krunal complementing the leggie well. However, there was still a sense of unease in the Mumbai camp as long as AB was at the crease, and it was incumbent on Mumbai to dismiss him before an insurmountable total was posted. Before today’s match Krunal had dismissed AB thrice in the IPL and to the relief of Mumbai supporters, the streak continued today. The first ball of Krunal’s over went the distance as AB dismissively swept him for a humongous 88 metre six over square leg. Perhaps the AB of the previous few IPL games would have looked to nudge the next ball around, but AB went with what had worked and opted to take Krunal on again the next ball, but fell. Jasprit Bumrah took a fantastic low catch that must have please Jonty. Nevertheless, AB’s innings injected badly needed urgency in RCB’s innings as he made 43 off 27 balls. Krunal rounded out the 13th over (and his fourth) by conceding four successive singles, as RCB found themselves 106/4. Krunal ended up with 2/34, another good bowling performance on the back of his match-turning 3/14 against the Gujarat Lions a couple of days ago.

Shane Watson, brought in for Samuel Badree, didn’t look at all comfortable during his brief sojourn at the crease. His awkward innings was cut short as Jasprit Bumrah made a mess of the Australian’s stumps to bring Pawan Negi to the crease. With 6 overs to go, RCB were 111/5 and in need for some momentum. Lasith Malinga executed a crafty 15th over as the duo of Kedar Jadhav and Pawan Negi could only eke 4 runs off it. Mitchell McClenaghan came on to bowl at the death in the 16th over, where he has been so effective this season. McClenaghan executed the over well, with no boundaries conceded and just 7 runs conceded.

By the time Jasprit Bumrah was brought on to bowl the 17th over, RCB were looking uncertain to post a total in excess of 160. The diminutive Kedar Jadhav took matters into his hands and whipped a full ball homing into his stumps past deep midwicket for a pressure-relieving boundary. Pawan Negi struck a pair of fortuitous sixes off Malinga’s next over to spoil his figures somewhat and at the end of the 18th over, RCB were 147/5. Negi continued on his merry way, slogging Bumrah for another six to move into the thirties, as 10 runs were scored off the 19th over.

It seems that our fast bowlers save their best for pressure situations as Mitchell McClenaghan steamed in to bowl the final over. The first couple of balls saw just a solitary run scored, before Negi flat-batted a fullish ball for a boundary to ensure RCB went past 160. McClenaghan struck back the next ball as Negi picked out Pollard in the deep, departing for a well-made 35 off 23 balls. McClenaghan made it two wickets off successive balls and had Pollard to thank as the big Trinidadian used all his height (and nous) to take a good catch at the edge of the boundary to account for the dangerous Kedar Jadhav. Parthiv Patel made it a team hat-trick, opting to take carry the ball to the striker’s end to find Sreenath Aravind short of his ground for a diamond duck. RCB ended up with 162/8, a much better batting performance than what we’ve seen of late.

A chase of 160-plus is always trick, given its in-between nature: Do teams go hammer-and-tongs initially, or do they play safe and conserve wickets? Royal Challengers Bangalore’s bowling has seen significant improvement from previous seasons and would provide a significant threat on this pitch. It thus came to pass as Aniket Choudhary accounted for Parthiv Patel off the first ball of the innings as he got the new ball to rise sharply and balloon to Yuzvendra Chahal, who took a very good catch low-down. Nitish Rana, in at three, ensured we transferred some of the pressure back on to RCB with a delicate leg-glance for a boundary to end the first over.

The man-of-the-moment, Chahal, was brought on to bowl the second over of the innings. Buttler and Rana welcomed him to the crease with a brace of boundaries, the first courtesy a misjudged dive from Sreenath Aravind whose evening wasn’t exactly going to plan at this stage. Adam Milne was brought on to bowl the third over, but was dispatched for 3 boundaries, as Buttler looked to take full toll of Milne’s extra pace and the new hard ball. Aniket Choudhary followed up his leaky first over with a much tighter second as he took cue from our bowlers by mixing up the length and letting the pitch do its work. Nevertheless, after four overs we were cruising at 36/1.

Sreenath Aravind’s at the crease was characterized by a couple of boundaries with Buttler’s loft off the fifth ball of the fifth over bringing the crowd to its feet. Kohli opted to bring back Yuzvendra Chahal back for the final over of the powerplay, but Buttler again showed his striking power, smashing a six off the final ball to bring up the MI fifty. The required run rate at that stage was comfortably below 8 runs an over.

Shane Watson was brought on to the bowl the 7th over, traditional a low-scoring over. It proved to be the case as Rana and Buttler managed just 3 runs off it. What Mumbai didn’t need at the stage was a wicket to fall, which is precisely what happened shortly after Negi’s introduction into the attack. An innocuous delivery that drifted in slightly was mis-hit by Buttler to Head at extra-cover. Buttler departed for a quick-fire 33 off 21, but Mumbai would have loved him to carry on. Nevertheless, it brought our skipper, Rohit Sharma on in front of a raucous home crowd. He soon gave it reason to cheer as he lifted the last ball of Watson’s 2nd over (and the 9th of the innings) for a boundary. Despite this, the run-rate was hovering around the 8-and-a-half runs an over mark.

Pawan Negi’s second over was crucial, given the context of the match. Nitish Rana had slowed down after the powerplay, with the youngster dealing in singles and twos predominantly. The lack of pace in the pitch and some smart bowling caused him to go after the all-rounder. The ball was heading for a six, but Travis Head took a wonderful catch near the boundary ropes to dismiss the number three. With just 4 runs off the following 4 balls, Mumbai were suddenly 3-down and the required rate was just a touch under 9 runs an over.

No matter, Kieron Pollard sauntered to the crease to allay the Wankhede faithful’s nerves and hit his first boundary off his fourth ball, off Adam Milne to signal his intent. Pawan Negi, at the other end was bowling beautifully, exploiting the nature of the pitch and conceded just 4 runs (one of which was a leg bye) off his third over of the innings. Yuzvendra Chahal was brought on to bowl the 13th over, a shrewd move given his troubles against wrist-spin this season.

However, it wasn’t Rohit who succumbed, but Pollard. The Trinidadian chipped a flighted leg-break down Travis Head’s throat on the boundary. Krunal Pandya walked in to bat, despite being under an injury cloud as he injured himself whilst fielding in the first innings. Unfortunately, his night ended on the field clutching the injured area in agony as a desperate dive to evade a Virat Kohli rocket-like throw from the boundary, aggravated his condition. Karn Sharma walked in to bat ahead of Hardik Pandya, ostensibly to keep him back in the finisher’s role.

Rohit Sharma at this stage was 21 off 18 balls and struggling to find fluency on this track. Thankfully, a couple of boundaries at the end of the 15th over bowled by Aniket Choudhary were just the boost Mumbai needed as required rate was kept under double digits. Karn Sharma showed no mercy to his counterpart, Yuzvendra Chahal as he bunted a flighted ball over his head for a boundary. He additionally ran hard and ensured pressure was maintained on the RCB fielders where a few errors started to creep in.

Nevertheless, a Shane Watson bumper came onto Karn sharper than he was anticipating and his flat batted pull only went to Adam Milne on the boundary. In walked Mumbai’s designated finisher, Hardik Pandya. With 30 runs to get off the final 18 balls, it was the perfect situation for him to play with abandon. He showed just that by smashing the valiant Aniket Choudhary for a massive six off the final ball of the 18th over to leave the equation a simple 18 off 12 balls. Rohit Sharma applied the cherry on top of the cake, by gathering his second fifty of the season, his second in three innings. One shot stood out: A slower ball by Sreenath Aravind was swept for a six off the 3rd ball of the 19th over. If anyone doubted whether our captain was back to his best, let that shot prove a suitable riposte.

The game was pretty much over in that Aravind over, as just 7 runs were required off the final over. Mumbai have a 5-1 record at the Wankhede this season and are 8-2 overall. The tussle with the Knight Riders for top billing continues where we’ve managed to seize top spot yet again. Our next match is against a young Delhi Daredevils side at the Kotla on Saturday, 6th May. Needless to say, after two hard-fought victories, our boys have earned their break!

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