Bowled over by confidence
Kumar Sangakkara, the acting Kings XI Punjab captain, was confused about whom to throw the ball to for the 19th over. Nineteen runs were required with JP Duminy shepherding a thrilling chase alongside the dangerous Harbhajan Singh. It was then that Piyush Chawla walked up to Sangakkara and asked for the ball.
Chawla removed Harbhajan, and Duminy fell in the next over to the inexperienced but increasingly confident Yusuf Abdulla. Game over, and it was won in these pressure-cooker moments. It was never going to be easy to defend 119 against a batting order boasting Sachin Tendulkar, Sanath Jayasuriya and Duminy. Not many would have given them the chance but, as Tom Moody gushed later, it was perfect team work.
It helped that the pitch got slower and the ball started to stop a bit. It helped that Mumbai Indians are yet to show that they can win without a contribution from Tendulkar and Jayasuriya. Punjab's bowling line-up doesn't possess the force to blow away the opposition but they hunted in a pack and were superbly aided by a great fielding unit. Not one catch was dropped, not one bowler or fielder crumbled under pressure.
It was not something you could say about Punjab at the start of the tournament. In fact, Mahela Jayawardene admitted the bowling was inexperienced and yet to gel. They were desperately trying to identify specific roles for the individuals. Things turned after a win fashioned by the batsman against Royal Challengers Bangalore before they defended 139 in their last game against Rajasthan Royals. Yuvraj Singh said that the Rajasthan game had given immense confidence to Punjab's bowling unit.
It certainly seemed that way. Irfan Pathan, not a regular in the Indian team, bowled his best ball of the tournament to remove Jayasuriya. It kicked up from back of a length and took the edge to first slip. It was the first moment of success. Tendulkar handed them another with a cut to point off Vikramjeet Malik. Suddenly, given Mumbai's dependence on their openers, you knew it could be a tricky little chase.
With the Durban pitch taking spin, Yuvraj introduced Ramesh Powar as early as the third over and he bowled with guile. He looks like a cricketer from another era and he bowls like a spinner from another era. He stands in contrast to modern spinners, who tend to fire their deliveries. Tonight, it was another tease act from the underrated bowler. Powar almost lobbed the balls across and got the drift and turn to keep the batsmen quiet. He lured out Dwayne Bravo, who was looking good in his brief stay, with flight before beating him with dip.
Mumbai had one silver lining in today's defeat: Duminy and his fine innings under pressure. His batting is beginning to evoke memories of Arjuna Ranatunga, especially in the cut shot, the lap shot and the swing over square leg that were Ranatunga's forte. Today, like Ranatunga, Duminy showed admirable cool to guide the lower middle order. He almost finished the game as well but fell, caught at the boundary ropes going for the shot that could have finished the game. Still, he showed the ability to soak up the pressure of the big-name openers' loss and can carry the team along.
The man who dismissed Duminy was not an known name in most parts of the world before the tournament. Not many batsmen would lose sleep over the prospect of facing Abdulla in the final over of a tense chase. Yet he possesses a good yorker, has the confidence to use it and has the brains not to try to bowl it every ball in a night game with dew and in a pressure situation. That takes some doing.
A couple of games ago, Chennai Super Kings struggled under lights with their bowlers hurling full tosses, while trying to bowl the perfect yorker. Abdulla slipped in a couple of slower balls and tried to hit it just back of length in the last over. The highlight of Punjab's teamwork came in the last two balls. Powar, not known for his fielding, hurled himself full stretch at cover to prevent some vital runs. Not many would have thought him capable of that. Then again, not many would have thought Punjab capable of winning this. In fact, even their captain thought they were 25 runs short.
"I didn't think 119 was defendable," Yuvraj later said. "But I just told the boys no matter what's the result we have to keep our energies and fight it out till the end."
It's not an awe-inspiring speech but sometimes you don't need one.
Karna S is a freelance cricket writer