IPL 2017: Mumbai Indians’ think tank deserves as much praise as players for securing final berth

The last ball of the second Indian Premier League 2017 qualifier between Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knight Riders pretty much summed up the fixture. It was a short ball, outside off, Krunal Pandya gave himself room, looking to slash it but got a top edge that went flying towards the third man area. Nathan Coulter-Nile rushed across to his right to catch it, but only managed to get his finger tips to the white object and the ball touched the boundary ropes to end Kolkata Knight Rider’s campaign. Mumbai Indians made bold decisions, stuck to it while KKR despite having plans couldn’t quite execute them. They were sloppy and, dare I say, tired.

After putting up a lacklustre performance and making some strange calls against Rising Pune Supergiant in the Eliminator, Mumbai bounced back in the second Qualifier to storm into the final. However, the tactics were still the same. Harbhajan Singh, once again, couldn’t find a place in the playing XI as Karn Sharma got another go. It was a brave move to back Karn’s wicket taking abilities than Harbhajan’s experience in big matches, but it paid off. The idea was simple, have a bowler who could dismiss batsmen in the middle overs, a trait which Harbhajan and both the Pandya brothers don’t offer to Mumbai’s captain Rohit Sharma.

Not just this, Mumbai’s team management seemed to have a plan for each and every top order batsmen from KKR. There were discussions whether Gautam Gambhir would come back to open with Chris Lynn in this important game. But KKR continued with their pinch-hitter Sunil Narine at the top.

Commentator Kevin Pietersen was gushing in Mitchell Johnson’s praise on air. He shared his experience of how intimidating it was to face the Australian pacer in the Big Bash League (BBL) and also revealed how he was excited to see a face off between Lynn and Johnson. He couldn’t have been happier after a top first over from ‘Mitch’. He varied his pace brilliantly and confused his compatriot with change in lengths, thereby managing to induce a top edge which fell in no man’s land. The work was done, neither was Lynn given anything to score off easily nor was he allowed to give the strike to Narine.

Mumbai have the best percentage of wickets (30.30) taken in the Powerplay in IPL 2017. So, when their strike bowler Mitchell McClenaghan sat out due to injury, they decided to toss the new ball to Jasprit Bumrah for the first time in this season and he delivered as Lynn holed out to Kieron Pollard at long on.

The responsibility to provide an explosive start was passed onto Narine. Teams that have been successful against the West Indian have cramped him for room and Mumbai’s bowlers did no different. Stump-to-stump lines ensured that he couldn’t swing his arms freely. The only delivery where he scored a boundary was an overpitched one around middle, which he could flick powerfully over the deep square leg fence. The bowlers forced the southpaw to take risks and when he did take one, he was stumped off Karn’s bowling.

As meticulous Mumbai’s strategy was against every batsman, the execution was just as perfect. That Gambhir has a habit of poking at balls that are in the fourth stump line is a well-known fact, but the way the bowlers persisted with that strategy against the tournament’s second highest run-scorer frustrated him. The dot balls had accumulated and to add to their woes, Bumrah had bowled the fifth over of the innings and trapped Robin Uthappa LBW. KKR’s score at the end of six overs was 25/3.

With no Manish Pandey and Yusuf Pathan (he was dropped), Gambhir knew he had to make a move, so he did and played a lovely inside out drive over covers off Karn’s first ball after PowerPlay to fetch a boundary. The southpaw, perhaps feeling a bit comfortable against the spinner, went for a sweep shot only to find Hardik Pandya in the deep. Gambhir departed for a 15-ball-12-run knock. A plot which was begun by the fast bowlers was ended by a spinner. The next ball Karn, who had a forgettable 2016 season with Sunrisers Hyderabad, bowled a googly first up to Colin de Grandhomme and handed him a golden duck. The seventh over had just finished and KKR had lost half their side. Karn had repaid the faith the backroom staff had put in him and was on a hat-trick. The night hadn’t even begun properly but the end was lurking around KKR.

Suryakumar Yadav, who was having a poor season thus far, and Ishank Jaggi, featuring in his second game of IPL 2017, were at the crease. Both the batsmen batted cautiously, showed solidity but made sure that they put the bad balls away. They forged a 50-run stand and looked set to up the ante when Rohit decided to go back to his wicket-taking leggie. Karn’s dream match continued, he broke the partnership, as Jaggi was caught by Mitchell Johnson at long on, and recorded his best bowling figures (4-0-16-4) in IPL. The rest of the Kolkata innings ended like a flash. They were skittled out for 107, a total that was never going to be challenging. But remember, this team had bowled out Royal Challengers Bangalore for 49 in a group match defending 132. So the hope was still there for Kolkata fans.

Parthiv Patel was given the license to go after everything, at least it seemed so, as the Gujarat captain played some sumptuous shots before perishing for 14. Mumbai had lost two wickets in three overs, but Kolkata’s best bowlers – Narine and Coulter-Nile – hadn’t even bowled yet. Chawla castled Ambati Rayudu to make things even more interesting. One partnership was all that Mumbai required and Krunal Pandya was sent up the order.

Krunal is a batsman who believes in scoring boundaries more than singles and twos. He did the same against Gambhir and Co in his 30-ball 45 run knock, he didn’t go through this method arbitrarily. He preferred safe shots, even while taking the aerial route he chose the gaps smartly. He scored runs all over the park at a strike rate of 150 on a pitch that was slow and where the ball was not coming onto the bat. He was well supported by Rohit who rotated the strike to ensure that dots don’t stack up. Though the Mumbai captain would be disappointed to end his innings with a needless shot. his side had got the partnership they needed to get over the mark.

Mumbai Indians are often mocked for having a star studded backroom staff, but that in hindsight the planning is what separated both these sides. What if Kolkata had addressed that Gambhir’s average had dropped down to 19.40 since Lynn’s comeback. The Delhi batsman was struggling to get going in the period where fields were spread out and going back to open the innings could’ve turned things for him and his side. Would playing an out of form Yusuf had helped the side that had lost a solid batsman like Manish, considering his experience in the IPL? Or what if they had played Kuldeep Yadav in place of Ankit Rajpoot, given that the deck at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium was somewhat assisting the spinners? They will bid goodbye to this season with a lot of questions. Mumbai, on the other hand, will travel to Hyderabad for the final with smiles and a tinge of worry as their nemesis Rising Pune Supergiant ask them some new questions. But they will afford to take rest for a day as their team management search for the answers.

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