Simmons ton pushes Mumbai to fifth
Mumbai Indians 159 for 3 (Simmons 100*) beat Kings XI Punjab 156 for 8 (Bailey 39, Vohra 36, Gopal 2-32) by seven wickets
Lendl Simmons walked in with a strike-rate of 115 this season. It would have been adequate considering Mumbai Indians' target was a relatively unchallenging 157. But he had other responsibilities to fulfill: Mumbai's chances at a playoff spot not only depended on wins in every match they play, they would also need to drub their oppositions. He responded with the first century of the season, lifting Mumbai to as high as fifth in the table.
Mumbai did waver from their course as the need to gain points on run-rate took a backseat to Simmons' landmark. His own nervousness contributed to a lull in scoring and sympathetic team-mates, including the big-hitting Kieron Pollard - blocked for him. The chase was well under their control and victory could have been theirs well earlier but they waited for Simmons. Once the necessary single was taken calmly through square leg, Pollard immediately slammed the final ball of the 19th over into the crowd beyond long-on.
Simmons drew impressive power from swift hands and a steady base. The cut was a frequent source of boundaries as he accounted for 55 of the opening partnership's 68. Kings XI Punjab were unable to keep to one side of the wicket which allowed Simmons to unleash an array of slog-sweeps and lashes down the ground to maintain a run-rate of nearly 10 for the majority of their innings, well north of the requisite 7.85. In the midst of a indifferent season, Mumbai have beaten the most dominant team twice and that confidence will be vital as they still need to win their two remaining games by a considerable margin to stay alive.
A combination of strength and timing allowed Simmons to ease into his innings. Most of his strokes ended with an audacious flourish and it was clear that he knew and vehemently backed his strengths. At the presentation, he picked the slog-sweep as his favourite shot but there were better picks on offer. Sandeep Sharma was unable to conjure any swing and was bashed for three fours - cut through point, drilled past mid-on and scythed beyond extra cover's reach - in the very first over. Spin did not trouble him either as he managed singles and interspersed them with boundaries borne from good footwork.
Virender Sehwag had been similarly adventurous when Kings XI were asked to bat. His see-ball-hit-ball-forget-about-feet method fetched 23 runs after two overs, but a freak run-out left Sehwag ruing another start not capitalised on.
Manan Vohra and Shaun Marsh, playing his first game of the season in place of the rested David Miller, weathered a brief spell of swing with the new ball. Their prudence was rewarded when spin was introduced. There were cracks on the Mohali pitch, but initial waywardness from Shreyas Gopal and Pragyan Ojha cost 51 in four overs. With their most potent weapon, Glenn Maxwell, still in the shed, Kings XI were primed for another assault.
But as had happened in the previous encounter between the two sides, the middle order was stymied and then sent back. Krishmar Santokie broke the 64-run stand for the second wicket as Marsh holed out. Gopal's legspin was persisted with and the gamble proved dividends as Vohra and Maxwell were pried out.
A slow pitch and a sudden dearth of big-hitters pushed Kings XI into a prolonged state of caution. Noticeable acceleration took as late as the 18th over and George Bailey strove towards a score that might offer some justice to their start. The eventual 156 did not, nor was it good enough.
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo