Lasith Malinga, Saurabh Tiwary star in thrilling Mumbai win
A dry slow pitch and the early fall of Sachin Tendulkar, on whom Mumbai Indians tend to depend far too much, combined to produce a thrilling game that concluded in the last over at the Brabourne Stadium. Set a target of 164 after Lasith Malinga had restricted Kings XI Punjab with a four-for, Mumbai stumbled at various points of the chase but found enough vital contributions to clinch the game with three balls to spare. Shikhar Dhawan laid the platform with a half-century, Saurabh Tiwary lifted Mumbai with a breezy 31 just when it seemed they might lose their way, and R Sathish produced the final flourish to push them past the line and take them a step closer towards a semi-final berth .
Mumbai needed 19 from the final two overs but Sathish produced two skillful hits to the ropes - an inside-out shot over covers and a whip-lash square drive - off Ravi Bopara, and Saurabh Tiwary thrashed a straight boundary to leave themselves six to get of the final over. Sathish held his nerves to collect couple of driven two's and Brett Lee fired a wide down the leg side, as Punjab slipped to their sixth defeat in the tournament.
It wasn't quite a quality game, but it made for interesting viewing. Despite a composed fifty from Dhawan, Mumbai dawdled in the chase to reach a situation where they needed 57 from 33 balls. It was at this point that the game started to turn in their favour. Tiwary slog-swept Piyush Chawla for a six and Ambati Rayudu pulled the same bowler to the wide long-on boundary to reduce the equation to 46 from 30 balls. However, Bopara, who bowled medium pace not dissimilar to Chris Harris, slipped in a few tight overs in the company of the equally impressive Shalabh Srivastava.
And when Bopara picked up the vital wicket of Dwayne Bravo with a slower one and Srivastava bowled a few dot balls, the equation read 27 from 15 balls. It was a make or a break moment, and Tiwary forced Mumbai ahead with a fierce flat-batted six over long-off off Srivastava; Sathish settled the issue in the next over with his strikes against Bopara.
It was a chase that ebbed and flowed right from the start. Dhawan had started it with two boundaries in Lee's first over but Srivastava bowled a tight over to keep Tendulkar quiet. It was the first sign that things might not be so easy for Mumbai. Chawla then struck a big blow, luring Tendulkar to hole out to long-on in the sixth over to push Mumbai to 42 for 1. Dhawan and Kieron Pollard pushed Mumbai forward but Pollard holed out to long-on, and Dhawan to long-off, to leave their team struggling at 91 for 3 from 11.4 overs. But they found enough firepower from the lower middle-order to clinch their sixth win.
Just as they allowed things to drift a touch in the chase, they had earlier allowed Punjab to stretch the target. Malinga had sizzled with three wickets from four balls, which included a perfect yorker to knock out Shaun Marsh, the only batsman who offered some resistance, as Mumbai restricted Punjab to 163. But you couldn't escape the feeling that had Mumbai produced their top game, Punjab would have struggled to get past 125.
Barring Marsh, Punjab's batsmen looked woefully out of touch. With the exception of Sachin Tendulkar, who was visibly agitated with his team-mates on a few occasions, Mumbai's men seemed to lack intensity in the first half of the game. The fielding was largely shoddy, with the irregular keeper Ambati Rayudu setting the tone, but they lifted their game after the first time-out and had enough skill with their bowling to restrict Punjab to a gettable score.
If Punjab got anywhere close to a decent score, they have only Marsh to thank for. This was his first IPL game this season but he looked in good touch right from the start. He collected four boundaries in his first ten balls, with a peachy on-the-up on drive against Ryan McLaren being the highlight. Regular fall of wickets, though, forced him to slow down and drop anchor. As witnessed in the first IPL, he kept things really simple: He stayed still on the leg-stump guard, preferring to stay completely beside the line of the ball, and played his drives. There was one big hit as well, when he went down on his knee to swing a slower one from Pollard from outside off over the long-on boundary; but for the majority of his innings, he drove along the ground.
He didn't find much support from his team-mates, though. Mahela Jayawardene struggled to get the ball off the turf initially and had problems running between the wickets. A run-out seemed inevitable and that's how he went in the end. Bopara missed a full and straight ball from Zaheer Khan and Yuvraj Singh shovelled a slower one from Bravo straight to short fine-leg. Even Irfan Pathan, who has batted really well in this tournament, failed to convert a start. To his credit though, it took a good catch from Harbhajan Singh, running to his right from midwicket, to end his stay. And when Marsh fell next ball, Punjab were tottering at 124 for 6 from 16 overs before Piyush Chawla pushed them past 160, which proved inadequate, but only just.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo