Punjab finally get their basics right
Kings XI Punjab waited too long to produce their best all-round performance of the tournament, but they should use this as a template for success in the games to come. The teams came into this match in contrasting situations but, tonight, only one looked like a side in control of all departments.
Winning cricket is made up of simple truths that work across all forms. If the bowlers work in tandem, attacking at one end and restricting at the other, as Piyush Chawla, Irfan Pathan and Ramesh Powar did, half the battle has been won. Back this up with accurate bowling - Punjab's bowlers hit the stumps five times, the most in an IPL innings - and sharp fielding and victory is within reach. A little discipline goes a long way, and today Punjab were frugal: they conceded four extras - three leg byes - and not one until the 15th over.
If the top order fires, life becomes easier. Punjab's did, in a suitable manner. If an opener bats out at least half the innings, as Adrian Barath did, a sturdy base has been set. If the No. 3 contributes and forges a partnership, as Kumar Sangakkara did with his first fifty of the season, then he make it easier on those to follow. It was a string of successful partnerships that sealed the chase for Punjab - teamwork at its finest from a side that had not won a game at home this season. And in that you have, as Punjab did today, the near-perfect game. Broken down into these simple steps, that's pretty much what a game of cricket comes down to and it's what Punjab had failed to achieve this season.
It was Irfan who sparked Punjab's dominance. His last outing had been one over that cost 17 runs, and truth be told there was an element of timidity in Shikhar Dhawan's poke outside off stump to the first ball of the second over. It wasn't a great delivery, but Dhawan's complacency gave Irfan the advantage he had failed to achieve in seven previous opportunities with the new ball. After that, he bowled like man with belief. There was just a little bit of swing, the ball was kept up, and a single came from five deliveries. Some brave batting from Ambati Rayudu spoiled Irfan's figures in the second over as three fours flew in the air either side of the pitch, but none of those deliveries had been freebies.
With a rare early blow, Sangakkara was able to bring on spin inside the Powerplay. Chawla hadn't taken a wicket in his previous three games - going for 75 runs from eight overs at 9.38 per over - and too often he was predictable and lacking consistency. Today he relied on the googly and the odd topspinner and netted three wickets. Rayudu was beaten by a quicker one, Saurabh Tiwary was dragged forward by a googly, and the biggest scalp of them all, Sachin Tendulkar, was bowled trying to hit a wrong 'un. Giving Chawla an extra over when Tendulkar looked superb was a big risk but Chawla delivered.
Those three strikes set the game up for Punjab. From 51 for 1, Mumbai lost three for 19 and they needed JP Duminy's composure to get them to respectability. After Chawla's special burst, Irfan returned to tighten the noose, giving away nothing in two fine overs that snared the dangerous Kieron Pollard.
In the 14th over, bowled by Irfan, R Sathish's wicket arrived thanks to a good low catch from Sangakkara behind the stumps. That over cost just five runs and there were no experiments. Pollard was welcomed with a short ball that he just managed to keep wide of square leg. Pollard connected well to another attempted short ball the next over, but that was followed by a splendid delivery. With third man and fine leg up, and midwicket pushed back, Irfan had to be accurate. The ball pitched full, got a wee bit of swing, and yorked Pollard's off stump. That last act gave Irfan his first three-wicket haul and his best figures of the tournament. Brett Lee gave 15 runs in the penultimate over but Love Ablish followed Irfan's lead and bowled an excellent final over full of slower balls.
The partnerships did not end with the ball. During four stands, each batsman involved fed off the other. One would take the lead, plugging away at Mumbai's attack in precise and generally risk-free attack. By the time Punjab had finished three overs the score was 31 for 0, 29 of which had been scored by Mahela Jayawardene, off 13 balls. At the other end, Adrian Barath had one off five. When one took a fatal blow the next man would take up the charge while ensuring the damage was minimal - that way Punjab hardly had to worry about a counter-attack. Barath took control after Jayawardene departed; after he went Yuvraj Singh accumulated his runs while Sangakkara hit out; when Sangakkara fell with victory in grasp, Irfan swung a few lusty blows.
Punjab won this match because they went back to the basics. Flair and natural talent can take one a long way but success for a team can be elusive if the basics of winning aren't already in place. Punjab, however, may have learned this a little too late.
Jamie Alter is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo