In their previous outing at Hyderabad, Mumbai Indians’ (MI) batsmen had struggled on a sluggish pitch, where playing shots is not easy. That performance from the batting unit had led to a resounding defeat.
But in the Indian Premier League (IPL) final, a lot can change in 12 days. When the coin flipped in Mumbai’s favour in the IPL final, Rohit Sharma had no hesitation to bat first. Going by history, teams which had batted first had won six out of nine IPL finals. Both their title wins had come when they were bowling second. But for every statistic that justified Mumbai’s decision, there was only one counter-argument: Rising Pune Supergiant 3, Mumbai Indians 0 in IPL 2017.
When Jaydev Unadkat steamed in and bowled a slightly fast delivery outside off, Lendl Simmons left it alone. It took Unadkat only one ball to go back to his slower deliveries and cutters. When he bowled the second ball, the first readings of the 22 yards could be made. MS Dhoni collected the ball on the second bounce after it beat the West Indian’s defence. A similar delivery followed on the third ball, where all Simmons could manage was a front-foot defence. The now-famous Unadkat cutters were proving to be effective on this deck and whenever that had happened in the season, more often than not, Pune did well. Washington Sundar was handed the ball to bowl from the other end and he did what he does best — bowl defensively by cutting down on any width to the batsmen.
Unadkat returned to angle in his off-cutter to Parthiv Patel who, frustrated with the slow start, tried to pull it but miscued it to Shardul Thakur at mid-on. The Saurashtra bowler had drawn first blood but there was more to come. On the fourth ball, Simmons, looking to flick an off cutter again, got a leading edge which flew in the direction of the bowler but was dying on him. Nonetheless, Unadkat managed to change his direction in the follow-through, dived to his left and took a sharp one-handed catch.
The 17-year-old Sundar chipped in with another quiet over before Shardul Thakur ensured that he didn’t allow the early advantage to slip away. Out of the first 30 balls, Steve Smith’s bowlers had bowled 14 dots and scalped two wickets. The pressure was on, the crowd was lively but the pitch certainly was not. But then came Lockie Ferguson.
The first ball of the sixth over, bowled at 138kmph, was dismissed behind square for a boundary, the first of the match. Another 143 kmph delivery was glanced to the fine leg fence. The last two balls of the Kiwi’s over, bowled at 143 kmph and 145kmph, went for eight runs too. This over set a pattern for the whole game. Genuinely fast bowlers were easy to score off and playing late was crucial.
But before Mumbai could take advantage of this proposition, all hell broke loose. Ambati Rayudu was run out by Smith. The duty to guide the side fell on the shoulders of Rohit. But he has had his share of woes in the tournament, hasn’t he? A leg-spinner was on and we are all aware of how it ends. Kieron Pollard, statistically the side’s second best batsman this season, strolled out to the centre and dispatched the first delivery he faced for a six.
Two balls later, he was gone too. The mind raced back to the 2010 final, when Pollard was the hottest property of the tournament. His ability to steal twos at long-off and long-on coupled with the odd powerful boundary had prompted the Chennai Super Kings skipper MS Dhoni to deploy a straightish mid-off. As luck would have it, Matthew Hayden caught the big West Indian at that very position.
Seven years later, the plan was the same and the dismissal was quite identical. Pollard smashed Zampa down the ground. But before the commentators were able to use the cliched ‘Don’t bother going after that,’ Manoj Tiwary pouched it at long off that was again slightly straight. It was a ploy Pollard couldn’t overcome in 2010 resulting in a loss in his first final and it was a ploy which could cost his side yet another title. Mumbai were five batsmen down for 65 in the 11th over.
Just when it seemed like all the madness was over, Pune struck twice in quick succession after the second time-out. Nobody could believe what was happening.
But then calmness prevailed. Amidst this fiasco, Krunal Pandya had managed to stay at the crease. Obviously being a part of the Mumbai team which played in Qualifier 2 — where Kolkata Knight Riders failed to play out their 20 overs and finished on 107 — the Baroda all-rounder started playing cautiously. He tried to take the game as deep as possible before setting off.
Eventually he was dismissed on the final ball of the innings. But not before he had given his bowlers and captain something to work with. 48 runs were scored off the last five overs and Mumbai’s innings ended on 129/8.
As funny as it may sound, the only team that had managed both to finish first on the table and win the tournament was Rajasthan Royals way back in 2008. That curse has haunted teams since, but maybe it was Mumbai’s chance now. They definitely needed some motivation and Krunal had provided it.
Moments after Mumbai were bludgeoned for 230 by Kings XI Punjab, Rohit asked his players to gather in a huddle and he addressed them. One wonders what his words were because Mumbai came storming out and almost chased down the highest score in IPL history. On an IPL final he surely would have had more to share. He revealed after the match how he constantly gave his side the example of the match against KKR, two days ago, where they bowled them out for 107.
Chasing scores like 130 are tailor-made for Ajinkya Rahane, who likes to quietly take ones and twos before sneaking in a boundary or two when required. He is a player who thrives on timing and this deck required someone like that. So when Mumbai opted to toss the new ball to Krunal, all were surprised. Maybe Rohit didn’t want to give the Pune openers any pace or he wanted to exploit Rahul Tripathi’s not-so-impressive record against left-arm spinners.
Only wickets could have fetched Rohit and Co their third IPL title. Pune were aware of that. Possibly that played on their mind as their approach, especially that of captain Smith, was far too defensive. This was clearly evident when the side’s run rate was crawling at par with the required run rate.
Only twice did Pune score above the asking rate — in the 2nd and 3rd over. Keeping wickets in hand to be able to mount an attack late in the innings is a tried and tested approach. The only problem was, the new batsmen would have found it difficult to explode from the word go.
But Mumbai were not discouraged despite not getting those much-needed breakthroughs. Wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel constantly asked Karn Sharma to flight the ball and also suggested that doing so would not give the batsmen any power to work with. Even though the leg-spinner finished wicket-less, he finished his quota with an economy rate of 4.50.
Rohit had given two overs each to Jasprit Bumrah and Lasith Malinga. He made constant bowling changes for an opening but nothing was going his way. They had put the brakes on the scoring, sure, but Rahane, after being dropped by Krunal, was growing in confidence and was giving an uncertain Smith time to settle. Pune was in cruise control mode.
However, the pitch once again came to the fore. Johnson bowled a slower ball, around off, and caught Rahane off-guard who was early into his attempted drive. The ball went in the air and towards Pollard who dived ahead to take a fine catch. The wicket had come but Pune hadn’t changed their method of chasing. Mumbai, too, were happy to bowl overs which conceded just five or six runs. Rohit was aware he had the likes of Bumrah and Malinga to counter Dhoni and Smith, when they wished to change gears and up the pace of the run rate.
In the 15th over, the Mumbai skipper had to make a choice: whether to bowl out Krunal now or give Pollard or Hardik an over? He took a risk and handed the ball to Krunal. Dhoni cut the third ball through backward point for a boundary and on the fifth ball, Smith reversed his stance and muscularly flicked it over square leg for a maximum. From 47 off 30 balls, the equation was reduced to 33 off 24 balls.
In the first Qualifier, when Bumrah bowled to Dhoni, he leaked 17 runs off 10 balls. But he evened it out when he got rid of the latter. He continued his brilliance and conceded only three runs in the 17th over. With one over left of both Malinga and Johnson, Rohit had to choose between either of the two for the next over. He went with the Sri Lankan’s reputation and it worked wonders as Pune could score merely seven in Malinga’s fourth over.
Pune required 23 off 12 balls and Smith finally got into his elements, lofting Bumrah's length ball over long-off to make the calculation easy for his side. He ended the over with a couple.
Johnson was left to defend 11 in the final over. His first ball, a cutter, was swept away to the vacant square-leg fence for a boundary. A position where Johnson had requested a fielder but Rohit had refused. Tiwary had been in the same position with KKR in 2012, he had won them the title back then. Could he do it again? Johnson refused, getting him out on the second delivery. 7 off 4. Two Aussies were up against each other. Mitch bowled it very full, Smith gave himself and drove it so efficiently towards covers……… only to find Rayudu in the deep.
Six runs off three became four off a ball. Pune finally realised that they had left it far too late. One the last ball, a desperate attempt to come back for the third run was ended when Parthiv whipped the bails off.
All the records that were put forth didn’t matter. It was still Rising Pune Supergiant 3, Mumbai Indians 1. Except MI had won when it really mattered.
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