Karn Sharma had a wicketless 2016 IPL after 16.2 overs across five matches. His economy rate of 10.46 was the worst among the Sunrisers Hyderabad bowlers in the season. He was subsequently released after three years with the franchise. Despite that, he was among the biggest Indian domestic gainers when he was acquired for INR 3.2 crore by Mumbai Indians at the auction in February.
He spent the first half of the league on the bench as Harbhajan Singh filled up the specialist spinner's slot. It was only when an injury forced Krunal Pandya out, for Mumbai's eighth match, that Karn got a chance. He scuppered a strong start by Rising Pune Supergiant with the wickets of their openers, but ended up conceding 39 runs in four overs. He was then promoted to No. 5 in the chase, but returned with 11 off 10 balls as Mumbai came up short in a chase of 161. Thereafter, he took steady strides and had nine wickets in seven games, heading into the second Qualifier, with an economy rate of 7.94.
Mumbai made the bold move of leaving out Harbhajan's experience for the knockouts. Having fluffed their first shot at making the final, Mumbai limited Kolkata Knight Riders to 107 after Karn scythed through their top and middle order.
He sent back Sunil Narine with his fourth ball, snuffed out Gautam Gambhir and Colin de Grandhomme off successive balls in his next, and closed out his spell with a three-run ninth over. He was then brought back for the 15th over, with Knight Riders having stumbled to 83 for 5, and undid Ishank Jaggi with flight, getting him to hole out to long-on. His 4 for 16, which included 12 dots and just one four, ensured Knight Riders were limited to a below-par total, which took Mumbai just 14.3 overs to chase down.
The wow moment
Karn used sharp angles and wily variations to tie up Knight Riders' batsmen on a slow Chinnaswamy deck that was hard to score on. When he came on in the fourth over, he was up against a far from fluent Narine. Halfway into the over, Narine had limped to 10 off nine and was desperate to ease the pressure. Karn, anticipating that Narine would give him the charge, shortened his length slightly. Narine wanted to heave him with the turn over the leg side, but Karn outwitted him by slanting a googly across the left-hander. Narine did not get anywhere near the pitch of the ball, swiping at thin air and leaving Parthiv Patel to complete a straightforward stumping.
Stats that matter
Karn Sharma's 4 for 16 are his best figures in the IPL. His previous best - 4 for 38 - had also come against the same opposition in 2014.
Karn's figures are the joint third-best in the IPL's playoff and knockout games, alongside Anil Kumble. The record belongs to Doug Bollinger who returned 4 for 13 in the 2010 semifinal against Deccan Chargers, followed by Dhawal Kulkarni, who claimed 4 for 14 in last year's first Qualifier.
What they said
"My bowling has come out well. It wasn't great last year but I have worked hard on it. This was an important game for the team as we had to qualify for the final, so I just tried to get wickets for my team and bowl them out quickly. It's a good thing that I am helping out the team."
"When you see a spinner bowl slow in T20 cricket that means his confidence is up. You are seeing that with Karn Sharma currently."
Sanjay Manjrekar on Twitter