Ambati Raydu had made a spectacular IPL debut with a match-winning half-century, attesting to the popular opinion about him being a richly talented player who had hurt his India prospects by joining the unofficial Indian Cricket League.
After another crucial cameo in the away victory against Delhi Daredevils, Rayudu failed to maintain the rhythm and it did not help his cause when he injured his hand in the field against Royal Challengers Bangalore and missed out on couple of matches. In his first two games after the break, Rayudu attempted the big hits early in his innings but flopped on both occasions.
One of those failures had been in his comeback game against Deccan Chargers, at DY Patil last week, when he was stumped off Pragyan Ojha. Harbhajan Singh had saved Mumbai's blushes then with a delightful cameo late in the innings. Today, when Mumbai stuttered at 62 for 3 after nine overs, Rayudu walked to crease with the team needing him to firefight again.
He started steadily, never allowing panic to grip him. It helped that the oak-strong Saurabh Tiwary was his ally at the other end - the pair had already shared two big partnerships including the 110-run stand in the first game against Rajasthan Royals which helped Mumbai post their highest IPL score. As Adam Gilchrist shuffled his bowlers in the middle overs, Rayudu and Tiwary bought themselves time before opening up.
With only one specialist batsman in Kieron Pollard in the dug-out, it was essential the duo split their responsibilities smartly without allowing the run-rate to dip drastically. At 24, Rayudu is four years older than Tiwary, and far more experienced, making him the senior partner. After Sachin Tendulkar's departure, Bravo was foxed by Pragyan Ojha's crafty left-arm spin leaving Mumbai needing Rayudu to orchestrate the fightback, with Tiwary taking the risks.
Still the pressure was mounting: Mumbai were going at nine runs after the Powerplay overs but in the next six they had just scored a further 30 runs and by the end of the 16th over they had reached 125. It was the most crucial phase in the match and Rayudu adopted the simple formula the two most successful batsmen in the IPL have followed this season. Both Jacques Kallis and Tendulkar, the top two run-makers of the tournament, have built their success by pacing their innings, picking the bad balls and essentially sticking to the straight bat than trying anything fancy.
Even when as he lost Tiwary in the final five overs, Rayudu did not once go for the slog or attempt anything rash; instead he relied on the bowler's error and smartly took advantage of the yawning gaps in the deep. Full tosses and short balls found themselves being dispatched behind square on the leg side or behind deep midwicket. Twenty runs came off the penultimate over by Jaskaran Singh and Rayudu had clipped 18 of those, in the process reaching his second half-century of the tournament.
From the team's perspective the key element was Mumbai had raised a challenging total having lost their top order even before the half-way mark. Little wonder then Tendulkar pointed out the victory was only possible due to the responsible innings from Rayudu.