If the term 'run-fest' could ever be used as an apt description for a cricket match, the clash between the Mumbai Indians and Kings XI Punjab at the Wankhede Stadium on Thursday would qualify.
It was another must-win game for the men in red, as it has been for a few matches, and once again they lost the toss and were put in to bat on a Wankhede 'pancake' of a pitch.
Glenn Maxwell lamented losing another toss as he had wanted to chase, no doubt due to the struggles of his bowlers to clinically defend a score, but for once the openers got KXIP off to a rollicking start.
New Zealander Martin Guptill has threatened a couple of times this IPL and against Mumbai, he looked ominous. While the big Kiwi couldn’t kick on, his 36-off-18 balls was just the start the Kings needed.
Maxwell pulled a surprise by sending wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha in to open the batting – maybe to give him a licence to play freely after the Indian Test keeper had struggled for timing throughout the tournament. The last time Saha was pushed up the order was in the 2014 IPL Final against Kolkata Knight Riders, when he came in at number four and compiled an amazing 115 not out in a losing cause.
This time though, fortune was on Saha’s side as he blasted 93 not out off just 55 balls to set up KXIP’s total of 230/3. His opening partnership set the tone for the KXIP innings, providing his team with real impetus and momentum.
Maxwell seized on this momentum, coming in at the fall of Guptill’s wicket – finally promoting himself up the order. The Australian maverick started with a bang and looked set to for a massive score before being bowled by Jasprit Bumrah for 47.
Despite being dismissed short of his half century, Maxwell’s innings – off just 21 balls – carried on the momentum of the innings and was crucial to Punjab posting such an imposing total. At the other end, Saha appeared to be playing the role of the silent, unassuming partner.
He found the boundary with regularity, often using the pace to play behind and square of the wicket, but also demonstrated that he has plenty of power by clearing the ropes three times.
While Saha’s brilliance with the bat was a little unexpected, given his tournament to date, we have grown to expect immense feats of skill with the gloves from him and this match was no exception.
Just when the game appeared on the line, with Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya blasting the Punjab seamers to all corners of the Wankhede, Saha dived full length to his right to snare an exceptional two-handed catch off the outside edge of Pandya’s bat. Sandeep Sharma had fired a full paced yorker out wide and found the edge, and Saha’s nimble footwork and safe hands did the rest.
Dew was always going to be a factor in Mumbai – hence Maxwell’s desire to chase – and there is no doubt the wetness allowed the ball to slide onto the bat nicely in the second innings. It was expected that Kings XI’s spinners might struggle and that the seamers would have to deliver a victory, however, just the opposite proved to be the case.
It took until the last match for Kings XI to realise that pace bowling was their weakness and to shuffle the bowling attack to include three spinners. Against Mumbai, they decided to leave Swapnil Singh out for Ishant Sharma and revert back to two spinners plus the part-time offspin of Maxwell.
This decision was probably based on conditions that were going to be tough for the slow bowlers but in the end, the spinners upstaged their fast bowling counterparts, with Maxwell who led the way.
The skipper’s two overs cost just eight runs, and he claimed the big wicket of Lendl Simmons, aided by a brilliant catch from Guptill on the boundary. Maxwell bowled with surprising variety and control, and the wet ball didn’t phase him. In combination with Axar Patel and legspinner Rahul Tewatia, playing just his second game after an impressive showing in his first, Maxwell turned the tide back in Punjab’s favour.
The three spinners conceded just 53 runs off their seven combined overs at a phenomenal run rate of just over seven and a half. Compare that with the seamers, of whom Ishant is the most economical going at over nine and a half runs per over.
Despite the spinners’ efficiency, the seamers leaked runs at an alarming rate and the match was still alive in the last over. Nightmares of Mumbai’s dominant chase the last two times these sides met must have been resurfacing for the KXIP players, particularly when their fielding skills began to desert them again – even the ever reliable Maxwell dropped a catch and fumbled another ball into the boundary.
Luckily, for the few supporters dressed in red at the Wankhede, Mohit redeemed himself from a shocker of an evening by bowling his three best yorkers of the tournament to close out the final over against Pollard and claim a meagre seven-run victory for the Kings. Those three yorkers kept KXIP alive in the tournament, with one game to play.