If Tuesday night’s match between Rising Pune Supergiant (RPS) and Mumbai Indians (MI) was a book, it might have been titled ‘How to beat the Mumbai Indians at their own game’.
When these sides first met this season, in the first game of Indian Premier League (IPL) 2017, RPS were led to a win by batsman extraordinaire, Steve Smith. Smith’s belligerent 84 took RPS to a win, but just to show that one man can win you a game but not a tournament, RPS lost their next three games.
By the time they played Mumbai again, they had found the right combination to do what Mumbai Indians have done so well themselves over the years: rely on Indian talent, not just the overseas stars. Ten of MI’s playing XI in the qualifier at the Wankhede were current or former internationals, including six of the seven Indian players. It is on the back of such players that MI have enjoyed their success as a franchise. And mid-way through the season, RPS’ Indian players started stepping up as well.
In the first IPL qualifier, the two standout contributions for RPS both came from Indian players, one their youngest, and the other their oldest.
When these two teams met last, Washington Sundar got his first IPL wicket off the last ball he bowled that night. Opening the bowling, he bowled two overs in the powerplay, conceding just three in his first, but 13 in his second. Smith extended his spell outside the powerplay, as a counter against the left-handed Parthiv Patel. With the field spread, Sundar did not concede a single boundary after that, bowling tight lines to Parthiv from around the wicket, slanting the ball into him. The last ball of Sundar’s spell drew the error from the frustrated batsman, who missed a cut shot and allowed the ball to find his stumps.
Throughout the tournament, Sundar has bowled good lines, and has been used especially against left-handers, cramping them for room with off-spinners that don’t turn. He has taken the odd beating, but still kept his overall economy rate well under seven, an extraordinary achievement for a player whose strong suit is his batting, and is often bowling in the powerplays. Did we mention he is just 17?
If anybody tells you Sundar bowled brilliantly for his three wickets, don’t believe them. Only the delivery that dismissed Rohit Sharma landed on a spot Sundar would be happy with, never mind the fact that the batsman got an inside edge on it. His next two wickets were off innocuous, even ordinary deliveries, and more credit goes to Smith for those sharp catches and aggressive field setting. But this is what happens when you bowl a number of good balls consistently; eventually, you will get the wickets, even if they come off bad balls.
With his three wickets, Sundar became the youngest player to win a Man of the Match award in the IPL. Safe to say, he likes the Wankhede.
If there is one thing MS Dhoni has taught us this season, it’s that we should never count him out. His poor form and slow starts were like deadweights for RPS in the early part of the season, but he has turned it around in scarcely believable fashion. His innings on Tuesday was a microcosm of his entire season — a slow, uncertain start, and a burst towards the end.
Before that 19th over began, Dhoni was on 14 off 17 balls, and had not scored a boundary since the 15th over. By the end of the innings, he was on 40 off just 26 balls, with five sixes.
What’s more remarkable, is his penchant for demolishing the very best in the business. In two games against Sunrisers Hyderababd, Dhoni scored 43 runs off the 17 balls he faced from Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, holder of the Purple Cap, and whose death bowling had been superb all season. At the Wankhede on Wednesday night, he helped garner 41 runs off the last 2 overs, bowled by Mitchell McClenaghan and Jasprit Bumrah, Mumbai’s best death bowlers. This, despite not scoring off Bumrah’s final two balls.
What will also add to Dhoni’s legend in this tournament goes beyond his cricketing nous though. His equation with Smith, the man who replaced him as captain, amid some unnecessary controversy, has been edifying. The wicketkeeper has often shared inputs (and just as often, a laugh) with Smith, portraying the image of a true professional and thorough team man.
MS Dhoni had featured in 17 playoff matches before this, and six of the nine IPL finals played so far. With this knock, he has once again kept a date with an IPL final.
Snehal Pradhan is a former India cricketer and now a freelance journalist. She hosts the YouTube series ‘Cricket How To’, and tweets @Snehal Pradhan