Sangakkara, Chawla prop up Punjab
Mumbai Indians were just a win away from reaching the semi-final, but their progress hit a stumbling block following their second consecutive scratchy batting performance, this time against an inspired Kings XI Punjab in Mohali. Punjab were assisted by a slow pitch and a disciplined show by their bowlers who exploited it well to restrict Mumbai to an unsatisfactory 154. Piyush Chawla and Irfan Pathan took three wickets apiece to set up Punjab's win, which was achieved in the final over.
Kumar Sangakkara's half-century was constructed on a decent platform built by his openers, who had added 41 in quick time. A couple of late wickets gave Mumbai a narrow opening, but a second specialist spinner, or more slow-bowling options, could have resulted in a closer contest.
The spell which stamped Punjab's authority was Chawla's, who removed the big hitters in four overs to deliver his first convincing performance of the tournament. It took 11 games for Chawla to finally show up. In the ten games prior to this, he bled 55 runs per wicket at 8.33 an over, all for just five wickets. His selection for the ICC World Twenty20 ahead of the tournament's leading wicket-takers, Amit Mishra and Pragyan Ojha, flummoxed many. It took a long time coming, but for once, sixes didn't fly off his bowling and the batsmen treated him with a bit more respect.
He was fortunate to be bowling in conditions which suited him. Though the pitch didn't take much turn, the slowness assisted bowlers like him and Ramesh Powar, who bowled out their overs in one spell. Punjab captain Sangakkara realised that spin was the best option after the seamers got tonked by Ambati Rayudu.
A change of pace brought about an immediate shift in momentum, as Chawla breached Rayudu's defences with a topspinner. An alert and brilliant stumping by Sangakkara sent back Saurabh Tiwary but the trophy wicket was undoubtedly Sachin Tendulkar's. Having progressed to 25, he attempted a wild slog off Chawla but lost his middle stump to a straighter delivery. Re-run the tapes to 2005 and it was at this very venue where Chawla had castled Tendulkar with a googly during the Challenger Trophy. Not surprisingly, it was the 16-year-old Chawla's claim to fame.
His partner Powar didn't get a wicket, but he kept things tight by varying his flight and pace to make the batsmen think twice before stepping out. Chawla's three wickets dented the run rate, which dipped from 9 to 7.25 after he finished his spell. It started to pick up once JP Duminy got his eye in. But he didn't get enough support from the other end to finish the innings in a flourish. Irfan induced a thick outside edge from R Sathish and flattened Kieron Pollard's off stump with a yorker. Sathish and Pollard had added 26 and 38 respectively with Duminy, but those were nothing more than brief recoveries.
Mumbai's best chance of fighting back was to pick up early wickets, but curiously, Tendulkar didn't attack with Harbhajan Singh straightaway as he had done in recent games. There were two bowling changes in the first four overs; by then Punjab had raced to 41 thanks to Mahela Jayawardene. He was harsh on length balls and played some crispy drives through the off side. Lasith Malinga kept him in check with slower balls before dismissing him with a chip to Tiwary at mid-on. Adrian Barath too played with freedom, using his feet to Harbhajan and not letting him settle. Harbhajan conceded 34 off his four overs; the part-timer Duminy had better figures of 1 for 15 from three.
Sangakkara got going with crunchy drives off Zaheer Khan and didn't try any risky shots till he got out in the penultimate over. His presence ensured that Punjab were never in grave of danger of losing. Yuvraj Singh supported him in a stand of 38 before he holed out to deep midwicket. Sangakkara reached his fifty off a fumble at the extra-cover boundary but a loft towards long-off cut short his knock. Pathan backed his good showing with the ball with a few big hits to seal the game, which never slipped out of Punjab's grasp.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo