Synopsis: Gujarat’s batting lions hunt down Mumbai leaving the defending champions’ playoff hopes for dead after PK and DJ choke the Indians in the death.
Lions on the hunt
That Gujarat Lions were the first team to qualify for the playoffs and that they presently occupy the No.1 position in the table going into the final day of the league stages could well be attributed to the scary firepower they possess in their batting ranks. But that they have done so with a net run-rate that is in the negative and only marginally better than the bottom-placed team in the league, Kings XI Punjab, is a brazen indicator of how they’ve gone about their cricket in their maiden season. For, it’s been boom or bust right throughout. And they weren’t taking any prisoners against the Mumbai Indians in a must-win encounter either on Saturday, and it paid off as they knocked the defending champions-or their hopes of progressing past the league stage anyway-almost senseless at the Green Park Stadium in Kanpur.
So when Vinay Kumar started their innings off by reducing the score to 0/1 at the end of the first over, getting rid of Aaron Finch without scoring, he only seemed to have agitated the Gujarat dug-out. Or so it seemed. For the next five overs in the powerplay went for 70 runs. Yes, it was almost like the maiden had woken up the sleeping Lions.
While Suresh Raina has always been a quick-scorer-his overall T20 strike-rate is better than Brendon McCullum’s-here, he got going like a man possessed, swinging his bat at every ball that came his way. Though he didn’t connect too well with the first few, before long he was launching Jasprit Bumrah over the covers and upper-cutting Mitchell McClenaghan over deep backward point. A couple went to the fence off thick outside edges, but Raina wasn’t in a mood to stop and worry about it.
At the other end, McCullum was just being McCullum-making room and launching himself at any ball that in his opinion deserved to be spanked with ferocity. He took a special liking to Krunal Pandya in his first over, hitting him for two sixes. By the time the first six overs finished, not only had the Lions pulled away from their opponents towards the finish line, they had also dealt crucial blows to their morale by taking down their best bowlers in McClenaghan, Bumrah and the older Pandya.
McCullum was bowled by a Harbhajan Singh off-break for two short of a half-century whereas Raina notched up his second straight fifty since turning father. But his departure only worsened the woes for Mumbai for it left Dwayne Smith, arguably the most intrepid of all their remorseless bludgeoners, with the license to go for the kill, which he did in his true kamikaze fashion. The Mumbai bowlers helped his cause by constantly bowling short of length on a ground with small square boundaries.
PK and DJ put on the choke
Smith, or the Agent as he’s called in T20 circles, had also delivered crucial blows with the ball once more for Gujarat earlier in the night. He had removed Martin Guptill and Krunal Pandya in his very first over-leaving his figures at that stage in Kanpur over the last three days reading 6/16-to leave Mumbai tottering with Rohit Sharma already having departed.
Then came the rearguard through unexpected quarters as young Nitish Rana took charge of the defending champions’ innings. It’s been a dream run with the bat for the young Delhi left-hander over the last eight months or so. He had also shown how much more valuable he had become as a T20 striker by notching up 21 sixes in the Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament. In an interview earlier this year, Rana had credited his Mumbai coach Ricky Ponting for his new-found ability to clear the boundaries. And Ponting was the one jumping to his feet, each time Rana hit a six-he hit four in all. While there was a crunch with every shot he played, the youngster did show a penchant for the leg-side. Overall 43 off his 70 runs came in the arc between square-leg to long-on-including all his sixes-but those stats didn’t matter to Mumbai. The only ones that did were the runs he was putting on with Jos Buttler and the 62 that the pair put on in the period between the 10th and 15th overs. Going into the last five, Mumbai looked poise for 200.
Then came the choke. When Lions are going for the kill, the usual technique is to bite their victim’s throat and then crush the windpipe, and suffocate them to death. It’s pretty much what Praveen Kumar and Dwayne Bravo with some help from Dhawal Kulkarni have been doing all IPL.
And they were at it again, producing yorkers at will to completely cut out the easy breathing space for boundaries that generally exists in the death overs. Instead, the Mumbai lower-order had to struggle and rely on crumbs to even maintain some momentum. Kulkarni was smashed by Pollard for a six that shouldn’t have been as it missed the middle of the bat by a few inches, but he came back in style by producing three terrific yorkers in the rest of the over. Kumar then finished it off by conceding just six runs and snaring two wickets in the final over as Mumbai could muster only 38 in their last five.
Playoff hopes for dead
By virtue of their victory, the Lions also paved the way for the Sunrisers to go through regardless of whether they beat Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) on Sunday or not. But Mumbai will have some interest in that result. If KKR win they are out for sure, but if they lose there still lies an improbable mathematical chance of Rohit & Co making a backdoor entry.