Lasith Malingas run-up was a little more measured than normal,and his wrist,at release,performed a little twist,as if he were opening a doorknob in front of the umpires face. This was the 17th over of Pune Warriors innings,typically second-spell territory for Malinga,but he wasnt aiming reverse-swinging missiles at the batsmans toes. He was bowling off-cutters instead. It was that kind of wicket.
It was the kind of wicket where Mumbai Indians,batting first,had lost nine wickets in stuttering to a run-a-ball 120. Punes batting unit had endured a similar sort of struggle,and now needed 33 from 20 balls with six wickets in hand.
Sourav Ganguly had scratched his way to 12 off 22 balls. Now,as Malinga let go,he moved his backfoot deep in his crease and all the way across the stumps. The ball slid away from the left-hander,giving him enough room to swing through the line and flat-bat it over the bowlers head for four,the first of his innings.
Malinga couldnt quite control his next two balls either. Both angled too far across Ganguly; both were called wide. One ball remained of the Sri Lankans third over. It was straight. Ganguly slogged across the line and missed and the stumps were shattered.
Pune needed 27 from the last three overs. They still had Mithun Manhas.
When Manhas walked in,the home team had been losing their grip on the game,stuttering at 47 for four from 10 overs,having taken the decision to leave out a specialist batsman in Manish Pandey for an extra seamer in Bhuvneshwar Kumar. But Manhas kept them in the hunt,playing perfect slow-wicket cricket staying deep in his crease,giving himself a bit of room,and cutting anything marginally short and using his deft hands to manoeuvre the ball square or fine as the field dictated.
The over following Gangulys exit,bowled by Pragyan Ojha,brought Pune 11 runs,starting with a halfway calculated top-edged cut from Manhas that sped to the fine third man fence. When Malinga returned,they needed a perfectly achievable 16 from 12.
But Wayne Parnell,attempting to clear backward point,directed a wide full toss straight into that fielders hands. With two right-handers to bowl at,Malinga recovered his line,and gave away only four from his over. Pune now needed 12 from six.
With Manhas and Bhuvneshwar struggling to come to terms with Munaf Patels exaggeratedly slow deliveries,the equation came down to eight from two. Bhuvneshwar slapped the first one over covers head for four,but could only get two from Munafs last ball,a perfectly directed middle-stump yorker that he could only steer to the leg side sweeper.
When he won the toss earlier in the day,Harbhajan Singh would have had absolutely no hesitation in batting first. The wicket at the Subrata Roy Sahara Stadium had shown enough of a tendency in previous matches to start slow and get progressively slower.
As it happened,Mumbais top order laid a more-than-decent platform,getting them to 72 for two in 10 overs. Sachin Tendulkar began by playing out a maiden from Ashok Dinda an over full of outswingers pitched just outside off stump that the opener failed to place through the off-side cordon before smacking three consecutive fours off his next over,the first two struck down the ground with a follow-through redolent of his shots against Tom Moody and Michael Kasprowicz at Sharjah 14 years ago.
But this wasnt to spark a flurry of big hits,and Tendulkars scoring rate remained sedate. At 21,he tried to paddle Murali Kartik,and ended up spooning it in the direction of Ashish Nehra at short fine leg. But Nehra was stuck on his heels,and by the time he began moving towards the ball,it dropped harmlessly wide of him.
Nehra grinned sheepishly the previous over,his first,had just gone for 14. But Nehras evening was to take a positive turn. The left-armer returned for Mumbais 12 th over,and dismissed Tendulkar off its last ball,an attempted late glide top-edged to the keeper. That over cost Pune only three runs,and his last two containing a mixture of skiddy seam-up deliveries and low,grippy off cutters delivered from a variety of angles went for two and one. In that space,Mumbai lost three more wickets.
In all,Mumbai scored only 48,for the loss of seven wickets,in their last 10 overs. But the wicket was only getting harder to bat on,and in Malinga,Harbhajan,Munaf and Ojha,they had the attack to defend 120. In the end,they just about managed the task.