IPL 2017: Nitish Rana, Pandya brothers excelling in crisis bodes well for Mumbai Indians

There are those who would have described the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) vs Delhi Daredevils (DD) clash at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, the former's home turf, as the first nail-biter of the 10th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL).

If one were to consider my opinion, as well as that of quite a few others, Mumbai Indians' (MI) four-wicket win in a cliffhanger of a contest against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) on Sunday was perhaps the first game that truly went down to the wire, one where the game could have gone either way till the very last ball of the match was bowled.

Hardik Pandya of Mumbai Indians celebrates after win over the Kolkata Knight Riders. Sportzpics

Hardik Pandya of Mumbai Indians celebrates after win over the Kolkata Knight Riders. Sportzpics

MI could not have made the Sunday evening more special for the raucous crowd at their home venue of Wankhede, which was packed to the rafters on the occasion, and also offered the visiting side a handful of support. And by opening their account in the tournament by notching up a win against one of the more consistent teams of the league, MI have gained some early confidence that should do them a world of good in their pursuit of making it to the playoffs.

MI had the mental edge heading into the game, with an overall head-to-head record of 13-5 against the Gautam Gambhir-led side, which then reads 5-1 in favour of the home team when one takes the matches played at Wankhede into account. However, the opening games for the teams could not have been more contrasting, with KKR notching up a dominant 10-wicket win against a struggling Gujarat Lions.

The MI team for the occasion was one that the local fans would be able to relate to, with some of the old stalwarts returning to the side after sitting out in the first game. Both Lasith Malinga and Harbhajan Singh, who are the oldest members of the franchise at the moment, were included in place of Tim Southee and the injured Ambati Rayudu. That the Sri Lankan pacer picked up a hat-trick in his last T20, made his inclusion in the team more of a no-brainer.

Malinga though, was the better of the three Mumbai pacers that evening, with Jasprit Bumrah and Mitchell McClenaghan finding it difficult to control their lines and lengths, and conceding a handful of runs. 'Slinga' Malinga, bowling the first over of the KKR innings, made a few fans nostalgic with a slew of yorkers while varying his line.

However, it was Malinga's variations in the death overs (read slower balls) that got him the two wickets for the evening, both coming at a time when Manish Pandey was looking to hammer and tongs in order to get KKR to a fighting total. Which he did manage, guiding KKR to a fighting total of 178/7, with some help from some listless deliveries by McClenaghan in the final over that fetched the visitors 23 runs.

In the batting department, Parthiv Patel and Jos Buttler got their side off to an ideal start with a 65-run opening stand, though they were living dangerously throughout the opening stand with several missed edges. It finally ended when Parthiv Patel was done in by a peach of a delivery from Kuldeep Yadav. That was followed by Buttler and skipper Rohit Sharma suffering the brunt of some truly horrible umpiring, with the latter being adjudged lbw for an inside edge that could have been spotted from the sight screen. Their dismissals gave KKR serious hope of getting to their only second win at the Wankhede.

This is where it would be pertinent of me of mention the match-winners for the evening — Nitish Rana and the Pandya brothers, Hardik and Krunal. The ones who swung the game away from the visiting side in a manner that made the match all the more memorable.

Skipper Gambhir and dashing opening partner Chris Lynn belted the Gujarat Lions attack for boundaries in their unbeaten 184-run stand in the previous game, and the gave out warning signs in this game when they raced away to 44/0 from just four overs, hinting at another century partnership. Had Krunal, the elder of the Pandya siblings, not struck twice in the second-last over of powerplay, who knows how majestic a total KKR would have put up on the board.

Then came Rana, who was the centre of a spat between Gambhir and Delhi cricket team coach KP Bhaskar, with the former standing up for young lads such as him after they faced exclusion during the Vijay Hazare Trophy. Being promoted to No 3 ahead of Rohit, Rana justified Gambhir's support for him back then, though it had to happen in a match in which his captain in the Delhi team was leading the opponents.

As wickets tumbled at the other end, with MI nearly losing hopes of a win after Kieron Pollard's dismissal left the scoreboard reading 119/5 in the 17th over. Needing nearly 50 to win from the last three overs, both Rana and Hardik showed amazing maturity and a remarkable calm head to capitalise on Kolkata's mistakes, and get the team as close to a win as possible. And once Rana departed after bringing up a well-deserved 50, Hardik stayed back and steered his side to safety, taking one someone as accomplished as Trent Boult in the final over, and succeeding.

That the youngsters in the team stood up and delivered when the chips were down is a great sign for the Mahela Jayawardene-coached side, who will look to make amends for failing to reach the playoffs last year. As they take on equally tough, if not tougher, opponents in Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) in another home clash on Wednesday, they will need some of their more established names to stand up and deliver in order to boost their chances of making up for last year's disappointment.

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Updated Date: Apr 10, 2017 14:38:41 IST

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