As soon as Dwayne Bravo, leading Mumbai Indians in the absence of a resting Sachin Tendulkar, chose to bat Kolkata Knight Riders were officially knocked out, the only team to have not made the semi-finals in any of the IPLs. If they had batted first and beaten Mumbai by around 175 runs, Kolkata could have improved their net run-rate and entered the last four. In their last league match, with little to play for, Kolkata produced their biggest win of the season, smartly using the slow pitch to keep Mumbai to a below-par target. Sourav Ganguly then played the cleanest innings on the tricky surface to take them home without hiccups.
In the only dead rubber of the 56-match league, Mumbai rested five first-choice players, and their second-rung side struggled right from the first over. Shane Bond removed the openers for not much, and the back-up bowlers assumed control with clever variations of pace. Saurabh Tiwary's 37-ball 46 and Ambati Rayudu's 15-ball 27 were exceptions in the general go-slow innings that struggled to stay above six runs an over.
Bond's extra bounce consumed Aditya Tare and Shikhar Dhawan in the first three overs, both batsmen edging while going for the upper-cut. In partnership with JP Duminy, who struggled against the slower cutters, Tiwary provided some momentum. Yet Duminy's struggle meant only 63 runs came in 10 overs while Tiwary was at the wicket. After Murali Kartik's spin, Jaydev Unadkat and Ashok Dinda harassed Duminy with slower ones. Finally in the 13th over, with the score on 77, Duminy swung wildly and was cleaned up by Unadkat.
Saurabh, though, managed to get power and timing behind his shots and had adjusted to the pace of the pitch. But with the run-rate still hovering at six, he tried to go for the big hit, and hit Kartik straight to midwicket. The score was still 77. Bravo didn't make much of the opportunity, and was stumped soon.
The way Rayudu responded to 89 for 5 after 15.4 overs belied the way other batsmen, except for Saurabh, had made the pitch look difficult. He clipped, cut, chipped and lofted with ease, but the lower order struggled around him, and Mumbai were still defending a below-par total.
It was Ganguly, though, who played the ideal innings on the sluggish surface. He committed early to few shots, and made sure all poor deliveries were scored off. And Ali Murtaza helped him with one in the first over of the chase: a long hop that Ganguly hoisted for six. With Harbhajan Singh absent, Mumbai went to quicker bowlers in the Powerplay overs. In the fourth over, Ganguly played his trademark inside-out lofts off Dilhara Fernando, one for a four over extra cover, the next for six over mid-off.
Ganguly was once again at his best when he chipped Duminy for two inside-out fours over extra cover in the 10th over, moving to 38 off 27, taking Kolkata to 71. Brendon McCullum, 30 off 29 by then, hadn't looked comfortable, struggling to get the timing right. Yet he slugged it out, never mind an inconsequential match, and after Ganguly got out in the 14th over, McCullum made sure he was there till the end, getting only his third IPL fifty since that 158 in the first-ever IPL match.
Ganguly may have not seen Kolkata all the way, but it was his positive innings that set up the tricky chase, and he got a healthy applause when he walked back. He took a moment to raise his bat to his beloved crowd. Could this be his last innings for Kolkata Knight Riders?