Rajasthan secure top spot with last-ball win
The Mumbai Indians lost their third successive nail-biter to leave their semi-final hopes hanging by a thread. Rajasthan Royals needed 43 off the final three overs to protect their 100% home record and youngsters Niraj Patel and Ravindra Jadeja kept their nerve - while several more experienced Mumbai players lost theirs - to win it off the final ball.
The real winners, though, were Delhi Daredevils, who became the third team to qualify for the semi-finals. Mumbai must now hope Chennai Super Kings lose against Deccan Chargers on Tuesday to stay in contention.
When Shane Watson was dismissed with 69 runs needed off 48 balls, Mumbai were in command; Rajasthan had no big-name batsman to follow and the pitch was not conducive to stroke-making. It got better for the visitors as the bowlers maintained their tight line and length and runs came mainly in singles. With Niraj and Jadeja hardly threatening, the equation became a difficult 43 off the final three.
The 18th over, from Ashish Nehra saw a streaky inside-edge for four and a misdirected yorker deflected off the pads to the fine-leg boundary left Rajasthan needing 32 off the last two. The penultimate over, bowled by Rohan Raje, yielded 17; Jadeja clubbed the first ball over cover for six and the rest was a mix of singles, twos, threes and a no-ball. The final delivery should have gone only for a couple, but shoddy work at the bowler's end - one among Mumbai's several elementary fielding errors - gave away a crucial, extra run.
Fifteen to get off six balls. Four came off the first two balls from Dilhara Fernando and, with 11 needed off four and two rookies against a wealth of experience, you'd bet on Mumbai to edge it. Then followed a flat, powerful six over long-on from Niraj, but, with only two scored off the next two, three were needed from the final ball. Fernando, an experienced international, then sent down a leg-side wide and Niraj mistimed the last delivery to mid-on. Only one run should have been taken but the batsmen chanced their luck and set off for the second. Sanath Jayasuriya, another veteran, fumbled the throw from the deep to fluff a simple run-out opportunity and hand Rajasthan yet another victory.
The chase of 146 began with some uncontrolled across-the-line heaves and suicidal running; Kamran Akmal punished Ashish Nehra's wide deliveries and picked off two boundaries off Shaun Pollock but was run out when he made the basic error of not dragging his bat into the crease. A couple of wickets more, a few more boundaries and another comical run-out, Mohammad Kaif stranded yards out. Then Sachin Tendulkar, running across from midwicket, pulled off a blinder to send back Watson in Raje's next over. That was when Rajasthan, as they have through the tournament, found new heroes to bail them out in Niraj and Jadeja.
After choosing to field on a pitch keeping low, Rajasthan restricted Mumbai to 145 - and even that modest total was reached thanks to Yogesh Takawale's eight-ball 24 in the final over, off Watson. Rajasthan's bowlers held sway for most of the innings, and Man-of-the-Match Sohail Tanvir reinforced his status as the tournament's best bowler with a four-wicket haul that earned him the purple cap.
Mumbai struggled to find momentum from the start, and the opening pair of Jayasuriya and Tendulkar were stifled by the new-ball bowlers to such an extent that only 29 runs, and two boundaries, came in the Powerplay. Yusuf Pathan, bowling flat and quick, and Siddharth Trivedi also kept Mumbai in check before Shane Warne came into the attack for his much-anticipated showdown with Tendulkar. Warne varied his flight well but was competently handled by Tendulkar, who kept tucking him away to the leg side.
Only 60 came off the first ten overs, and Jayasuriya, trying to provide some impetus, had a bit of luck with a couple of boundaries before pulling straight to midwicket. Things were to get worse for Mumbai as Tendulkar offered Trivedi a simple return catch and Robin Uthappa was smartly stumped by Akmal off Warne after a short, uneasy stay at the crease.
Abhishek Nayar's three off-side boundaries pushed them along but, just as the innings was gathering some momentum, Tanvir ran through the Mumbai middle-order, taking four wickets in two overs. Then came Takawale's flurry but it was inadequate as Rajasthan again dug deep to pull off an improbable win.
Siddarth Ravindran is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo