It took one week for IPL 2016 to finally deliver a blockbuster. Gujarat Lions controlled the game for the better part of 35 overs before slipping in the next four to bring the equation down to 11 off the final over at the Wankhede Stadium. Aaron Finch
, who overcame bouts of cramps and possibly a twinge in his hamstring, was running on empty by then. Fortunately for them, Dhawal Kulkarni
, who returned to the venue he has grown up playing on, channelled his batting potential to smack Jasprit Bumrah over extra cover for four, before Finch biffed a boundary when they needed one off the final ball. Lions sneaked home by three wickets to consolidate their position at the top of the standings.
Seamer Kulkarni and legspinner Pravin Tambe, who know what it takes to bowl on the Wankhede track having played for Mumbai in domestic cricket, were central to Lions' bowling plans. They returned combined figures of 6-1-31-4 to rip the heart out of Mumbai Indians' batting line-up. Finch then showed different shades of his batting in a composed unbeaten 67 - a third half-century and a third Player-of-the-Match award this season - to steer Lions through a chase of 144 and extend their winning streak to three matches.
What appeared to be a straightforward pursuit hit a roadblock as Lions slipped from 65 for 1 to 83 for 4. Suresh Raina's dismissal to a Mitchell McClenaghan bouncer triggered the slide. Further life was injected into the contest when Dinesh Karthik's sweep found a leaping Harbhajan Singh at deep backward square leg to give Krunal Pandya his first IPL wicket. Dwayne Bravo was then given out caught behind off Mitchell McClenaghan in controversial circumstances - replays suggested there was no deflection.
The asking rate, which had hovered around seven an over, now touched nine. Lions needed 54 off the last six overs. Akshdeep Nath walked in for his first hit in the IPL and Mumbai smelled an opportunity to get in a couple of quiet overs. But Finch was unperturbed, bringing out the big hit - a slog over cow corner off Harbhajan - to bring the equation down to 35 off the last four overs.
After Nath fell to an ungainly heave, James Faulkner's tactful strike rotation eased the pressure on Finch. But just when Lions were cruising with 13 to get from the last 12 balls, McClenaghan produced another twist, sending down a dramatic 19th over in which James Faulkner and Praveen Kumar fell to outstanding catches by the wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel. Mumbai sensed an opening, but Finch and Kulkarni kept their calm to see Lions through.
Two overs into the contest, it was evident that Raina had won a crucial toss. This wasn't a Wankhede deck where batsmen could kill the ball like they did at the World T20. Instead, there was swing, bounce and zip off the surface. By resisting the temptation to pick Martin Guptill, Mumbai showed faith in the same batting group that had made light work of Kolkata Knight Riders. But this time they played too many shots and left Mumbai in a hole at 77 for 5. Parthiv's 29-ball 34 at the top of the order and Ambati Rayudu's 19-ball 20 at No. 6 were the only significant contributions in the top order.
Mumbai got to 143 thanks to a late assault from Tim Southee and Krunal Pandya, who made 25 and 20 not out respectively as 61 came off the last five overs.
Mumbai's momentum stretched into the early part of the Lions chase, when Bumrah dismissed Brendon McCullum in the second over. Raina scrapped his way through a short-ball challenge to make 27 before falling to his bogey ball. By then, Finch, coming off 50 and 74 in his first two outings, was in his element. He repeatedly opened up the off side by giving himself width to clear the infield against the spinners in the middle overs.
The groundwork done in the first eight overs helped Lions overcome a wobble at the end, and dig into their reserves to eke out a memorable win.