Match Analysis

Cramping Finch times his run to perfection

For a while, Aaron Finch performed his task surreptitiously, picking off runs almost unnoticed. But when the time came to finish the job, he delivered.

Aaron Finch sealed Gujarat Lions' win with a pulled four, Mumbai Indians v Gujarat Lions, IPL 2016, Mumbai, April 16, 2016

For the third successive match, Aaron Finch scored a half-century and was Man of the Match  •  BCCI

Middling total. Dew-soaked ball. Minor bowling and fielding lapses. But, this was a pugnacious Mumbai Indians side shoulder-charging through the obstacles. This was a night they were desperate to make their own and lose the 'slow-starters' tag. They crawled their way to 88 for 6 in 16 overs but then ransacked 55 runs in the last four overs. They removed Brendon McCullum early in a chase of 144, refused to panic in the wake of a strong second-wicket partnership and dismissed Dinesh Karthik and Dwayne Bravo in consecutive overs. Mumbai weren't going to back down.
But for every inch they advanced they found themselves behind by a foot, yanked by an unseen force. This was an invisible enemy sniping at them even as they were taking down the troops on the ground. It wasn't until the 18th over that the enemy shed his covert status. Crash. The helmet was flung to the floor in distress. Scream. An SOS was sent to the medical stuff. Aaron Finch had finally surfaced with an agonised wince when Mumbai Indians thought they had him contained. He had tapped Jasprit Bumrah's slower ball over his head and hared back for a second run. As he stretched out to make his ground, a cramp seared through his hamstring.
This was a hamstring with a catalogue of misfortune. It was only three months ago that he suffered a moderate grade injury during the limited-overs series against India. More haunting were the images from last year when he was helped off the field after tearing his hamstring. He was then turning out for the very team he was engaging in combat at Wankhede on this night.
Finch had so far gone about his job surreptiously by virtue of a three-fold strategy - hold, accumulate and apply timely force. Thirty-three of his 67 unbeaten runs came via singles and twos, but he ensured that a boundary was achieved when required. In the third over, there was another ferocious straight drive that killed any semblance of swing in Tim Southee's full offering.
Finch had slipped under the radar by playing within himself. His scores at different points were: 18 off 19 balls, 34 off 32 and 47 off 44. In each of his partnerships, he appeared to be the more dormant partner. Sample his 53-run alliance with captain Suresh Raina where it seemed like Raina was doing all the scoring. But Finch had contributed 22 against Raina's 27 without attracting any attention to himself. He didn't mind lying low either when Krunal Pandya was in the middle of a tight spell, sending down fast, accurate left-arm darts - he played out 12 balls off Krunal for seven runs.
However, Finch's cover was now blown with his cramped hamstring. There were no more vantage points to perch upon and train the L42 Enfield, no thicket or bush to hid behind. Gujarat Lions required 13 off 12 balls, and Finch had to be the man on the ground driving the final stages of the operation. Two balls later, James Faulkner, the last recognised batsman, was out nicking behind a short delivery from Mitchell McClenaghan. Finch talked the next batsman, Praveen Kumar, through the plan, but PK being PK backed away and fend-glided the ball to Parthiv Patel, who plucked a fine reflex catch. Gujarat were seven down, and Finch hobbled his way through two singles along with Dhawal Kulkarni, and kept strike in the last over.
The chants of "Bumrah, Bumrah" were deafening as Gujarat needed 11 runs to win. Finch, though, was unmoved, whipping an intended yorker first up to deep mid-wicket and somehow summoning enough strength to complete a double. It was followed by a single and Kulkarni then thrashed a full delivery over extra cover for four.
Two balls and three runs later Finch looked around the nervously arranged field and smiled. There was nothing surreptitious about his methods now as a rasping pull secured the battle. The helmet was off and the bat was waved with a martial air. With three consecutive fifties and as many man-of-the-match awards, the painful cramp was now a distant second behind ecstasy.
While Kulkarni called it one of the best innings he had seen, McClenaghan conceded that their efforts at bottling up Finch were ultimately futile. "I think we did some great scanning work [on Finch] with Bondy [Shane Bond], Ricky [Ponting] and Rohit [Sharma] in the last couple of days," he said. "I think there's credit to how we shut down his scoring zones predominantly. It's just a shame that we couldn't get him out. He played a very mature knock and showed the class of player that he is. [He was] exceptional getting the team across the line."

Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. @scarletrun