Abdulla clinches Punjab a last-over thriller
Talk about pulling one from out of the hat. Defending a small total Kings XI Punjab's three-pronged pace attack bowled canny spells to rock Mumbai Indians' chase, and despite a composed half-century from JP Duminy, Punjab hung on to complete a nerve-wracking three-run victory. Mumbai hardly set a wrong foot forward from the time they lost the toss, striking early through spin and keeping their hands on the jugular through Lasith Malinga's late strikes, but failed to chase 120. Kumar Sangakkara had kept the innings alive with an important unbeaten 45 with scant support and it proved decisive in the end. Having struck early in the piece the task of bowling the last over, and defend 12 runs, came to Yusuf Abdulla. And what an over it turned out to be.
Duminy, who was on 55, swung two down the ground, missed a clever slower ball, left a wide be, heaved two more, and then swung the fourth ball straight to deep midwicket. Abdulla was perspiring insanely in the Kingsmead cauldron as he left his giddy team-mates and went back to his mark. But this is a left-arm fast bowler adept at the Twenty20 format, and he only allowed three off the next two balls, aided by a superb dive at cover by the portly Ramesh Powar off the last ball to save a couple, to spark incredible scenes.
This major upset was put into motion early in Mumbai's chase. Mumbai are very reliant on their veteran openers, so striking early was one massive way at winning. Irfan Pathan gave Punjab exactly what they wanted, getting Sanath Jayasuriya to nick one to slip in the first over. Then Sachin Tendulkar, for once, failed. After a thick edge past backward point and crude hoick he drove Vikramjeet Malik straight to point. The situation was particularly dubious when a struggling Shikhar Dhawan missed a middle-stump yorker from Abdulla.
That left Duminy and Dwayne Bravo to steer a faltering chase, and Duminy set about it with consecutive boundaries in Malik's second over. Bravo a pulled four and lofted six in Piyush Chawla's opening over only to repeat the big shot in the next and hole out to long-on. Mumbai went into the tactical break on 47 for 4, still 73 adrift.
Duminy has proved a master of such situations and milked the bowling in a 49-run stand with Abhishek Nayar. Livewires alike, they pinched singles and kept runs ticking over. Harried singles from clever paddles and rubber-wrist dabs also did the trick. A few fumbles in the deep told as Punjab started to slack; a couple fortuitous inside edges and a missed run out and stumping compounded their frustration.
As the target got closer Duminy raised his fifty off 55 balls, the slowest of the IPL. Irfan came back to clean up Nayar first ball of the 18th over, with Mumbai needing 26, and Harbhajan Singh fell in the penultimate over with 19 left. Seven runs were scampered in the next five balls. Then Abdullah came into the picture to seal Punjab the tightest win of the tournament.
It was a disappointing loss for Mumbai after a glossy display in the field. For the second game running at Kingsmead spin had its say over proceedings early on. Mumbai's slow bowlers came on well inside the first ten overs and quickly dented Punjab. Malinga and Zaheer Khan were frugal with the new ball, but it was Harbhajan's entry in the fourth over brought the wicket of Goel, stumped easily. That brought about another change, Bravo coming in and immediately accounting for Ravi Bopara with an away-swinger. The Powerplay yielded two wickets for Mumbai and just 26 runs for Punjab, which included one six and a four.
Attempting to up the tempo Yuvraj was well held on the long-on boundary by Zaheer off Duminy - who came in the seventh over - and Mumbai were hooting and screaming. At the ten-over break Punjab were 50 for 3. Throughout the tournament the first over after the tactical break has proved jittery for sides batting first and the pattern continued. Enter Jayasuriya and third ball Mahela Jayawardene chipped a low full toss to long-on.
Batting wasn't easy with the slow bowlers purchasing grip from a track on which spin accounted for eight wickets in the afternoon's game. Sangakkara curbed himself in and knocked the ball around. The sweep was a shot he played regularly in between chopping the ball into the arc between cover and point. After Irfan fell in the 15th over Punjab needed a big over, but it never came. Malinga came back for two overs and nobody was able to get him away; Wilkin Mota and Chawla were yorked in the space of three balls. In the last ten overs Mumbai conceded just two boundaries off the bat, Sangakkara and Powar clubbing Bravo twice in the final over.
Ultimately Sangakkara's vigil and Abdulla's calm came up trumps for Punjab. For Mumbai, it was a rude wake-up call, and they will now seriously have to address a batting order too reliant on the openers.
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo