Synopsis: Kolkata put an imposing 187/5 on the board, thanks to Gautam Gambhir and Manish Pandey’s 100-run partnership. But Mumbai Indians banked on Rohit Sharma’s waltz and a McClenaghan cameo to run down the target with five balls to spare.
The Rohit waltz
Midway into the Mumbai Indians’ innings, Rohit Sharma became the buzz at Eden Gardens. About 35,000 fans, most of them Kolkata Knight Riders faithful, had been standing and applauding. They had been entertained with one of the best batting displays of the summer. It had to be the case anyway. From his Test century on debut to world record 264 in an ODI against Sri Lanka, this venue has seldom returned Rohit empty-handed. This is the place where he has lifted the IPL title twice as well. The love affair continued.
Against a victory target of 188, the visitors’ chances largely depended on their captain. And what an innings he played. Third ball into the chase, and Rohit flicked Russell over deep square leg for a six. John Hastings, miserly in the first game against Delhi Daredevils, came for the second over, and Rohit unleashed a gorgeous on drive to the long-on fence. Kolkata captain Gambhir sensed the danger and brought on Brad Hogg. But Rohit is a master of picking the length early and his pull to the square leg boundary had authority. After a fallow World T20 — 88 runs in five matches — the opener was once again in his element. He saved the best for last though, when Russell returned for his final spell. Three fours in a row; the last of which was swept from wide outside off to the mid-wicket fence. An unbeaten 84 off 54 deliveries had made the choice for the Man of the Match award a formality.
Mumbai got stuck a bit after power-plays. Parthiv Patel’s silly run out and Hardik Pandya’s stutter being the reasons. Leg-spinner Piyush Chawla and chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav had been bowling. Mumbai promoted left-hander Mitchell McClenaghan ahead of Jos Buttler and Kieron Pollard. The pinch-hitter slammed back-to-back sixes off Chawla, clobbered another one off Yadav, scored 20 in eight balls and took the wind out of Kolkata’s sails. Brilliant thinking. Horses for courses. Then, Buttler came, played an excellent cameo and slammed the door shut on the hosts.
The 100-run partnership
Manish Pandey has grown pretty well as a limited-overs batsman. The match-winning hundred for India in the final ODI against Australia at the SCG in January attested his progress. He is comfortably Kolkata’s most assured hand and tonight he played a rollicking knock.
The hosts might have liked to chase a total on an excellent T20 pitch. But Rohit won the toss and Kolkata had been sent in. It’s always difficult to set a par score with the pitch playing so beautifully. But 200 was up for grabs. Pandey’s 29-ball 52 and his 100-run second wicket partnership with Gambhir set the base. A big partnership was the need of the hour after Kolkata had lost Robin Uthappa early – done in by the extra bounce from McClenaghan. Pandey and Gambhir wrested initiative.
Calmness is Pandey’s forte. He is never hurried and waits for the loose balls. His ability to rotate the strike was the key to his 179-plus strike-rate. When Pandya missed his length, Pandey eased him over long-on for a six. When Harbhajan Singh over-pitched, the young batsman lifted him over the mid-wicket fence. And as left-arm spinner Jagadeesha Suchith – in for Vinay Kumar – enticed him with flight, he danced down the track and hit him straight for a maximum.
It needed a special delivery to get him out, after he had reached his half-ton. And Harbhajan produced one, holding back his top-spinner a little and grabbing a comfortable return catch. But by then, Kolkata had been set up nicely.
Gambhir played his part with a 52-ball 64. He timed the ball well for his four fours and a six. But the left-hander had been lucky to survive on 30 and 55 with Rohit and Jasprit Bumrah flooring simple chances. Andre Russell came early with a clear brief to throw the kitchen sink and the big Jamaican laid into Tim Southee, hitting him for two sixes and then, turning his attention towards Harbhajan with another six and a four. He had raced to 36 off 16 balls, when McClenaghan breached his defence and it proved to be a turning point with Kolkata scoring only 23 runs in their last 2.4 overs. After Russell’s charge, 200 looked to be very gettable.