After a string of one-sided matches, the Indian Premier League 2016 was badly in need of a tight match to get itself going, and desperately looked to Kolkata Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians to provide that much-required boost.
After all, Mumbai and Kolkata are the only two sides—apart from the suspended Chennai Super Kings—to have won the title twice in the past. The two sides lived up to expectations and battled hard but Rohit Sharma’s brilliant unbeaten 54-ball 84 meant it was the visitors who came out on top with a six-wicket win at the Eden Gardens on Wednesday.
The drama started well ahead of the match, with tremors across the stadium minutes before the toss. Once that was done with, the cricket took over, and didn’t disappoint. Half-centuries from Gautam Gambhir (64) and Manish Pandey (52) had taken Kolkata to a competitive 187 for 5 before Rohit continued his love affair with the Eden to complete a clinical chase with five balls to spare.
The target was stiff but Mumbai made it look easy, largely because they executed a simple but effective plan—bat around Rohit. The captain played a steady hand and guided the chase while the rest took their chances.
Given Kolkata’s array of spinners, Mumbai realised they had to go hard against the pacers in the Power Play. That is exactly what Rohit and Parthiv Patel did, taking Andre Russell and John Hastings to the boundary regularly. Rohit set the tone, casually whipping the third ball of the innings, from Russell, over deep square-leg and Parthiv followed suit, cutting and pulling for fours.
Parthiv ran himself out against the run of play in the sixth over but Mumbai already had a good start with 53 on the board in the Power Play.
With a shaky middle order to follow, the onus was on Rohit to guide his side through the rest of the chase. He did just that, pacing his innings beautifully to gradually take control over the situation. He lost Hardik Pandya after the half-way stage but Mumbai innovated with success—aided by some poor catching by Kolkata—by promoting Mitchell McClenaghan to No. 4.
He started by blasting the second ball he faced, from Piyush Chawla, over the sightscreen and followed it up with two more sixes in the next three balls. One of them, however, should have been taken but Suryakumar Yadav ran in too quickly and allowed the ball to burst through his hands. McClenaghan’s luck ran out when he miscued Kuldeep Yadav to cover, but having made 20 off 8, he had already done his job.
Over to the pros now—Rohit and Jos Buttler. With 79 required off 48, the situation was tailor-made for the latter. Buttler had fallen for a duck on his IPL debut against Rising Pune Supergiants but wasn’t going to miss out again, and killed the contest when he smashed Russell for two outrageous sixes over extra cover in an 18-run 17th over.
Russell had his revenge in his next over but the result was all but decided by then.
Earlier, Mumbai ended up conceding a massive total but the start was very different. Tim Southee and McClenaghan hit the perfect length and extracted good bounce, denying Gambhir and Robin Uthappa the opportunity to free their hands.
Uthappa perished to the pressure, miscuing a short ball that bounced chest-high from McClenaghan to cover. That would, however, be the only joy for Mumbai for a while to come.
The Power Play had yielded only 40 runs but Pandey’s entry gave Kolkata much needed impetus. He slammed Hardik Pandya straight into the sightscreen in the seventh over for the first six of the match and followed it up with two more massive sixes against the spinners—Harbhajan Singh and J. Suchith.
At the other end Gambhir, who enjoyed some luck when Rohit dropped him off Suchith when on 30, went about his business as usual. The duo batted in contrasting styles but was equally effective and complemented each other; Pandey crossed his half-century off just 26 balls while Gambhir took 39 to become the batsman with the most half-centuries in IPL history (27).
The 100-run stand took just 58 balls before Harbhajan induced a return catch off Pandey in the 14th over. Gambhir too slowed down a touch after his half-century but there would be no respite for Mumbai as another massive hitter in the form of Russell walked in.
The West Indian swatted the third ball he faced, off Southee, for a flat six over deep mid-wicket to announce his arrival. Crouching low and appearing ready—and eager—to send every ball into the stands, Russell seemed in the mood. Sixes flew over long-on, edges flew past third-man, and Kolkata’s score swelled rapidly even as Gambhir enjoyed more luck when Jasprit Bumrah dropped a high, albeit straightforward return catch.
McClenaghan got Russell to chop on to the stumps in the 18th over but by then, the batsman had done enough damage to take Kolkata past 180. Mumbai’s batsmen, however, ensured it wouldn’t be enough.
Karthik Lakshmanan is Senior Staff Writer at Wisden India. Mint has a content partnership with Wisden India for IPL 9 season.