So near, yet so far

Mumbai Indians fell just short of a seventh-successive victory this season at the Wankhede, in a topsy-turvy match against the Rising Pune Supergiant. In a match decided by fine margins, it came down to the final over for the second time this season. The Mumbai Indians won a crucial toss as Steve Smith called incorrectly and Rohit Sharma had no hesitation in putting the Rising Pune Supergiant to bat first. There was no doubt that the potential prevalence of dew was a factor in this being the decision. Karn Sharma was brought in for the injured Krunal Pandya, playing his first IPL match in a Mumbai Indians jersey.

The duo of Ajinkya Rahane and Rahul Tripathi walked out to bat on a steamy evening and made use of some friendly batting conditions initially to start the innings off on the front foot. The highlight of the first over bowled by Mitchell Johnson was an exquisite uppish cover drive by Rahane that went sailing past the boundary ropes for six. McClenaghan’s first over was punished by Tripathi with an aerial cut and Rahane, with a classy straight drive that beat mid-on’s drive. Pune found themselves at 18 without loss after 2 overs and were well on their way.

Johnson’s next over was tidier, with just the seven runs being conceded, but Rahane was looking in exquisite touch with a mere push sending an overpitched ball screaming to the fence. Karn Sharma was brought on to change up proceedings in the fourth over. To his credit, just 6 runs eventuated, as Tripathi and Rahane were content in playing the leg-spinner cautiously.

The fourth over of the innings saw the first appearance of Jasprit Bumrah, but Rahane welcomed him to with a punch past cover for a boundary. Perhaps the clean-shaven look was suiting Rahane, with the local lad punishing anything remotely off line. Rahul Tripathi made sure his presence was felt with a lofted six off the first ball of Karn Sharma’s second over (and the last over of the powerplay), before Rahane made a mockery of a well-flighted leg-break from Karn Sharma with a beautiful on-drive past mid-on. At the end of the powerplay Pune were a couple short of their 50, with Mumbai yet to break the opening stand.

After the Wankhede crowd sang ‘Happy Birthday, Sachin’ in the strategic time-out, Rohit Sharma turned to one of ‘The Little Master’s’ teammates, Harbhajan Singh, to try and break this worrying opening stand. Rahul Tripathi was in no mood to show the veteran off-spinner any deference, however, with a lovely late-cut that only a Mitchell McClenaghan special dive could prevent from racing for a boundary. Rohit Sharma brought back his ace-pacer, Mitchell McClenaghan, for the 8th over. Tripathi and Rahane welcomed him to the crease with a trio of boundaries and after the 8th over Pune were at an imposing 69 without loss.

Harbhajan Singh twirled away at the other end and managed to keep the runs down to just 5 in the 9th over. Karn Sharma was brought back on to make it a twin-spin attack and rewarded his skipper (and the Wankhede faithful) with a ripping top-spinner to catch the languid Rahane completely off guard. All the batsman could do was spoon a simple catch, which Karn Sharma accepted gleefully. Karn could have had the dangerous Steven Smith in in the same over, but Harbhajan could not cling onto a difficult catch in the outfield. Would this be a repeat of the previous encounter between these two sides, when a drop would cost us again?

Not if Harbhajan had anything to do with it. Having been stuck on 199 T20 wickets for the past couple of matches, Harbhajan wound back the clock off the very last ball of his spell and got an offspinner to sneak under Smith’s pull to dislodge the off-bail. Getting the opposition captain, and arguably one of the world’s premier players of spin bowling, out bowled was a magical piece of bowling. It was thus fitting that his 200th T20 wicket was that of an Australian skipper, having tormented one of Smith’s predecessors endlessly over the years. Harbhajan did what his captain asked of him, managing excellent figures of 1/20 off his 4 overs. It meant that he still has not conceded more than 30 in any spell, this season.

It was time to bring back pace, and who better than Mitchell Johnson to make our opponent’s life uncomfortable? Mitchell Johnson would need no extra motivation, given that he was coming up against an old opponent of his own, the Englishman Ben Stokes. It was Stokes who won the battle, as he clipped an angling in ball fine for a lovely leg glance. Johnson had the last laugh, however as Stokes had a rush of blood and tried to smash a length ball for a six over cow-corner, but missed the ball by a mile and ended up being castled. Manoj Tiwary walked in at number 6 and managed to hit a couple of boundaries of the first two balls he faced. Mitchell Johnson ended his spell with 1/34, his first IPL wicket upon his return to the Mumbai Indians.

Pune were now 137/4, but still had their man-of-the-match from their previous match, MS Dhoni, at the crease, along with the determined Manoj Tiwary. However, Jasprit Bumrah ended Dhoni’s labored stay at the crease when Dhoni dragged a length ball back onto his stumps and thus Pune found themselves 138/5, having lost their last four wickets for 45 runs in six overs. Bumrah rounded off the 18th over brilliantly, conceding just 5 runs off it and Pune, were struggling to match their early momentum. Mitchell McClenaghan was brought back to bowl the 19th over, a crucial one in any circumstance. McClenaghan duly delivered what his team required, with just 8 runs being scored off it. McClenaghan’s figures of 0/36 off 4 overs didn’t do justice to the quality of bowling he exhibited on this night.

The 20th and final over of the innings was Bumrah’s to own. His first two balls were carted to the fence for back-to-back fours, before he removed the dangerous Manoj Tiwary for a quickfire 22 off 13 balls. After Pune were 84/1 after 10 overs, Mumbai restricted their neighbours to just 76 runs in the ensuing 10 overs, for the loss of 5 wickets.

With the humid air being a harbinger for dew, the chasing side would always be at a slight advantage, at the Wankhede. Steven Smith decided to gamble on introducing Washington Sundar, the off-spinner, to bowl against the pugnacious duo of Parthiv and Buttler. The move worked, as both batsmen were kept quiet in the first over as only 3 runs were scored off it. Shardul Thakur came in to bowl from the other end and Buttler wasted no time in continuing from where he left off in Indore. If the first four off Thakur was a touch fortuitous, the next was ominous for Pune, with Thakur’s overpitched offering tickled to the fine-leg fence. Mumbai were away at 14/0 after 2 overs.

Parthiv Patel was keen on imposing himself on Sundar and cracked 3 fours in 4 balls off his next over. After the third over, Mumbai were 27 without loss, with Sundar’s figures spoiled after a fine first over. Jaydev Unadkat was brought on in the 4th over to replace Thakur, but Buttler managed another fortuitous boundary as Unadkat’s second slower-ball off-cutter went to the third man fence, courtesy an outside edge. Ben Stokes came on to make it 4 different bowlers in the first 5 overs and the Englishman made an immediate impression as he got rid of the dangerous Buttler. Stokes no doubt would have bragging rights over his compatriot, dismissing him for the first time in T20 cricket with a slower ball that only carried as far as Washington Sundar, who took a fine pressure-laden catch. Stokes finished his first over brilliantly, a wicket-maiden, as Mumbai were going at 7 runs to the over after the end of the 5th.

Steven Smith’s knack for calling on the right bowler at the right time continued when he called on the skiddy Dan Christian to snare another wicket. Christian managed to get Mumbai’s leading run-scorer, Nitish Rana, to sky a pull off a leg-cutter no further than Jaydev Unadkat at third man. The sluggish nature of the pitch meant that pacers were getting more purchase with cutters and other subtle changes of pace. The 9th over of the match saw Steven Smith keen on bowling the inexperienced Washington Sundar out. Washington Sundar repaid the faith his captain invested in him by removing the dangerous Parthiv Patel for a well-made 33 off 27 balls. The off-spinner returned the highly impressive figures of 1/26 off four overs. Mumbai found themselves in trouble at 60/3 after 9 overs, with the required run rate exceeding 9 runs an over.

Smith shrewdly decided to introduce his ace up his sleeve now, Imran Tahir. However, Rohit was keen on imposing himself on the South African, dispatching two of his first three balls for fours to ensure the team was keeping in touch with the required rate. However, it still meant that Mumbai Indians were 16 runs behind where Pune were at the end of the 10th over. Karn Sharma was promoted up the order, to play a Narine-esque type of innings. He was able to land a glorious six off Imran Tahir slog-sweeping the leggie.

Stokes was again brought back on to nip the momentum that MI had generated in the bud. Stokes got due reward with a wicket, getting rid of Karn for 11 off 10 balls. Stokes had, at that point in the match, figures of 2 wickets for no runs off 7 balls. In walked Kieron Pollard to face off against the Englishman and immediately got off the mark with a single and followed that up with a boundary with a slog over midwicket. With the run rate flirting with double digits, Rohit Sharma took on his nemesis Tahir and dispatched him for a four and a six the next over. Nevertheless, the inability to rotate the strike prevented this over from being a blowout, a significant event in the final scheme of things.

Ben Stokes bowled his second over on-the-trot and conceded just 8 runs, with just the solitary boundary conceded as the MI batsmen failing to get him away. Rohit Sharma released some of the pressure at the beginning of the 16th over with a towering six over midwicket off the bowling of Shardul Thakur. Unfortunately, Imran Tahir fought back to get the dangerous Kieron Pollard for 9 at the beginning of the 17th over, but with Hardik Pandya coming into bat, there was still hope that the run rate of nearly 10 was still manageable. Tahir rounded off his final over of his spell superbly, with just 4 runs coming off it. It would prove to be the pivotal over as the required rate mushroomed to nearly 12 runs an over.

The 18th over would have to be targeted, bowled by Jaydev Unadkat. The third ball of his over brought our skipper his first fifty of IPL 2017, before Hardik Pandya carted successive boundaries to keep the equation down to 24 off 12 balls. Ben Stokes would be entrusted with the 19th over and turned the match completely on its head with a masterful display. Just 7 runs were conceded as the Englishman expertly mixed up yorkers, cutters and full balls outside off stump. From requiring 48 off the last 5 overs, MI now needed 17 off the final one. Ben Stokes ended the night with simply amazing figures of 2/21.

Jaydev Unadkat broke Mumbai hearts by dislodging Hardik Pandya off the very first ball, becoming the first bowler to dismiss our finisher. Despite a six by Rohit, Unadkat killed the game with 2 balls to go as Rohit couldn’t repeat the dose and Unadkat took a pressure catch, despite hitting his head on the ground in the process of completing the catch. With 11 required off 2 balls, Harbhajan Singh couldn’t get under a low full toss and in the process, ran out McClenaghan. The last-ball six for Harbhajan did ensure the margin of defeat was just 3 runs. The highly unusual sight of a bowler celebrating a six, with the batsman looking on somberly pretty much summed up the mood in both camps.

Unfortunately, this loss represented Mumbai’s first home loss this season, their second against the Rising Pune Supergiant this season and their third against the same team, overall. It also meant that we could not extend our win-streak to 7 matches. However, the performances of our twirlers, Karn Sharma & Harbhajan Singh, along with Bumrah’s 2 wickets and the captain hitting an important half-century represent the proverbial silver lining to this defeat. The team will now have a few days rest before its next assignment against the Gujarat Lions at Rajkot on the 29th of April, a game the team will no doubt look forward to with renewed zest.

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