Sachin Tendulkar shored up Mumbai Indians yet again with his fifth half-century of the IPL that all but guaranteed them a place in the semi-final and took him to the top of the run-charts in the tournament. He overcame Rajasthan Royals' strong start by building two partnerships: the first with JP Duminy to lead Mumbai's recovery after the loss of three early wickets, and the second with Kieron Pollard to accelerate at the end. That effort was backed up by a clinical performance from Mumbai's bowlers, which left Rajasthan battling in a mid-table scrap at fourth place, and inflicted on them their first defeat in Jaipur.
While their chase seemed doomed to fail after four wickets in the first seven overs, Rajasthan will look back at two phases where Mumbai could have been restricted. They grabbed three wickets in the Powerplay, but failed to keep up the pressure during a rebuilding endeavour by Tendulkar and Duminy. And they performed poorly in the field, with Adam Voges missing an easy opportunity to run out Pollard off his first ball, and Aditya Dole dropping a sitter off Tendulkar when on 45. The lapses cost Rajasthan dearly, as the pair helped plunder 68 off the last five overs to lift Mumbai to a score that proved out of Rajasthan's reach.
Tendulkar faced just 12 deliveries in Mumbai's Powerplay, but adapted superbly, restraining himself while ensuring a healthy rate after the early setbacks, and taking off with ease at the death against Rajasthan's seamers. Shane Watson removed Sanath Jayasuriya in his first over, and followed up by dismissing Ambati Rayudu and Saurabh Tiwary with the bouncer, a weapon used successfully against local batsmen. But Duminy proved a suitable foil for Tendulkar, and the pair worked the field, picked the singles by calling well and accumulated 30 runs in five overs after the Powerplay.
There was hardly anything for the Jaipur crowd to cheer thereafter, but franchise loyalties mattered little in a Shane Warne v Tendulkar contest that fans were deprived of in the previous encounter. Tendulkar prevailed today, with three boundaries in one over against his counterpart. Warne was the only Rajasthan spinner to rely on flight, and Tendulkar improvised twice by striking him inside-out through extra cover. And when Warne dropped one short, Tendulkar made room to cut him through point.
Rajasthan had a chance once they broke the 63-run stand between Duminy and Tendulkar in the 13th over, but paid the price for mistakes in the field and some indisciplined bowling at the death. The seamers often bowled too short and when varying their pace, pitched the ball on a length which Tendulkar and Pollard were able to feed off with ease. Pollard began the surge with a slapped four off Dole in the 16th over and clipping Watson through fine leg in the next. He singled out Dole for treatment, smashing him for a six and a four off consecutive deliveries before being bowled to end a 50-run stand.
Tendulkar's acceleration was more calculated. He had picked out his spots in the field and it didn't help Rajasthan that their bowlers gave him ample opportunity to find them. With a mid-on inside the circle in the penultimate over, Watson bowled short and was hammered over that fielder for two consecutive fours. When Siddharth Trivedi came on next, Tendulkar targeted the wide long-on region for two successive sixes and finished off with 20 in the final over.
The only moment of promise in Rajasthan's chase was when Michael Lumb struck Dhawal Kulkarni for two fours in the second over, before slashing one straight to point. Zaheer Khan was the best of the Mumbai bowlers, nipping the ball away from the batsmen and clocking in excess of 140 kph, and earned his reward when opener Naman Ojha edged to slip.
While Rajasthan were generous in the field, Mumbai didn't waste their chances and Shane Watson and Faiz Fazal were run out after responding late to calls from their partners. All hopes rested on Yusuf Pathan but there were no miracles this time, and when he was caught in the 14th over with the score on 85, Rajasthan's fate was sealed.