All fizz, no kick
Yet another IPL playoff match. Yet another win for Chennai Super Kings, their eighth in 11 such games. Yet another defeat for Mumbai Indians, their fourth in five such games, including their third in three to Super Kings. Since the IPL final of 2010, Mumbai Indians had won six of the eight times they had met Super Kings before tonight. Only one of those meetings had been a playoff match, the eliminator in 2012. And Mumbai Indians had lost that. They still have a better head-to-head record against Super Kings, but when it comes to the big occasion, they always come second. This collection of superstars just falls apart under pressure.
Bat first, bat big and let five specialist bowlers squeeze the opposition. This had been Mumbai Indians' mantra this season. They'd won the toss, batted and won their first seven home games this way. Somewhere down the line the time was going to come when their bowlers would not have the cushion of a big total and their batsmen would have to come good under the demands of a chase in a crunch match. Through the league stage, there were signs Mumbai Indians would likely struggle in that case, especially away from home.
They narrowly failed to chase 157 against Royal Challengers Bangalore in Bangalore. Then they managed 92 to Rajasthan Royals' 179 in Jaipur. They did get home against Kolkata Knight Riders' 159 in Kolkata, but needed Harbhajan Singh to hit a six with nine needed off four. Pune Warriors could not test them with just 112, but some signs were again visible in Mumbai Indians' last home match, against Sunrisers Hyderabad's 178. The asking-rate had nearly touched 16 at the death when Kieron Pollard hit eight sixes in no time. That does not happen every day, and in their next match, Mumbai Indians crumbled to 133 in pursuit of Kings XI Punjab's 183 in Dharamsala.
Rohit Sharma was visibly disappointed at losing the toss and having to bowl. A month ago on the same ground, his bowlers had made a mess of defending 161, bowling full tosses and poor lines for Virender Sehwag and Mahela Jayawardene to finish things with three overs to spare.
There wasn't even the cushion of 161 today, they had to start blank. Blank and clueless was how they appeared against Michael Hussey and Suresh Raina's onslaught. This is a staggering thing to say in Twenty20, a format where bowlers don't have to do much to get wickets, but at no point during 20 overs did Mumbai Indians threaten to strike.
First ball from Mitchell Johnson was a full toss on the pads and was taken for an easy four. Mumbai Indians went on to bowl a ridiculous amount of full tosses at the death and most of them were taken for boundaries. Munaf Patel had hardly played this season, came into a playoff match, and bowled too often into the pads. When even Suresh Raina does not expect a short ball from you and is prepared for the full one, you know you are getting too predictable. Not once did Lasith Malinga try the bouncer. He didn't even try short of a good length. Pragyan Ojha was likely to find it difficult against two left-handers in such touch, and he did. The fifth bowler was one area Mumbai Indians have had issues with during the season, and Pollard leaked runs again. Had Harbhajan Singh not slowed it down a tad during the middle, MS Dhoni would not have felt his side's total was 10 runs short.
Dwayne Smith's manic hitting put Mumbai Indians slightly ahead after eight overs. He was crashing almost everything for boundaries and another two or three such overs could well have closed the door on Super Kings. With Smith, though, there are only two gears, first and fifth, and he usually does not shift them during an innings. Probably such a tall chase required at least one batsman to play in the way he did. Probably with men such as Rohit Sharma, Dinesh Karthik, Ambati Rayudu and Pollard to follow, Smith was right in not being too selective with his shots.
Not often does a batsman make 68 off 28 in a Twenty20 and end up on the losing side. Which is why Mumbai Indians' capitulation, so swift and decisive, was disappointing. None of the four batsmen after Smith lasted even 20 deliveries each. Rohit and Karthik are among the leading run-getters this season but struggled to score even during their short stays on the big night. And the tail showed it is a really long tail with Harbhajan in at No 7.
Once more, the multiple champions proved too good for the pretentious challengers. You can pack your side with all the superstars you want. Both Super Kings and Mumbai Indians have done so. That is where the similarity ends. As long as Mumbai Indians keep crumbling under pressure in crunch matches, that is all they will be taken for. A collection of superstars. They have another chance on Friday in the second qualifier to earn some respect as a team. Meanwhile, Super Kings will be waiting for their fifth final in six seasons.
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo