Rising Pune Supergiants made a sweet start to their life in the IPL, their seamers waylaying Mumbai Indians’ top order to set up a breezy nine-wicket win over the defending champions. Chasing 122, they got there with 32 balls to spare, Ajinkya Rahane steering them home with a fluent unbeaten 66 off 42 balls.
The pitch had lost most of its early bite when Supergiants batted, and Rahane quickly got into the groove with a pair of straight-driven fours off Mitchell McClenaghan, in the first and third overs of the innings. Any residual chasing nerves Supergiants may have had dissipated in McClenaghan’s third over – the fifth of the innings – when both Rahane and Faf du Plessis picked up sixes off mis-hits; they probably would not have carried all the way on a bigger ground.
Nonetheless, Supergiants were well on their way, and the openers put on 78 before du Plessis played on to Harbhajan. It left the rest of the batting a mere 44 to get from 62 balls, and Kevin Pietersen hastened their passage home with a couple of monster sixes off Harbhajan. The 15th over began with Supergiants needing eight to win, and Rahane finished the game with two boundaries in four balls, clubbing Hardik Pandya to the long-on boundary before ramping him for six over the third man boundary.
Mumbai made life easier for Supergiants, with Jos Buttler fluffing a chance to run du Plessis out after a dreadful mix-up between the openers, and Shreyas Gopal missing a caught-and-bowled off Rahane.
The season began on a Wankhede Stadium pitch dissimilar to the easy-paced, hit-through-the-line surfaces offered up during the World T20, and Mumbai, after deciding surprisingly to bat first, struggled against the seam movement and bounce. They only got as far as 121 because Harbhajan climbed into Pune’s bowling at the death, clubbing an unbeaten 45 off 30 balls and scoring the bulk of the 41 runs Mumbai made in the last three overs.
Till his intervention, they seemed to be struggling to even get to 100. Ishant Sharma, getting the ball to nip around and climb on the batsmen, and Mitchell Marsh, getting late swing away from the right-handers, reduced them to 30 for 4 by the end of the fifth over, and it became 40 for 5 when Rajat Bhatia trapped Kieron Pollard lbw with an offcutter in the eighth over.
Apart from helping the quicker bowlers, the pitch was also offering Bhatia grip, and Mumbai struggled for rhythm against his stump-to-stump mix of cutters and slower balls. He finished with figures of 1 for 10 from his four overs. Shreyas Gopal, who made 2 off 16 balls, faced nine balls from Bhatia and failed to score off any of them.
Gopal’s stay at the wicket came to an end when he holed out to long-off off the bowling of M Ashwin, the debutant legspinner. Nerves were evident in the number of short balls M Ashwin sent down – they gripped and turned too much for the Mumbai batsmen to do very much with them – but he also bowled a couple of ripping googlies that hinted at the potential Supergiants must have seen in him to shell out Rs. 4.5 crore for his services.
His more famous namesake R Ashwin, meanwhile, only bowled the one over, continuing a puzzling trend of being under-utilised by MS Dhoni. He struck with his first ball – just as Ishant, Marsh and Bhatia had also done – but that first ball came after a 15-over wait. Dhoni declined to use him after that, entrusting the death overs to RP Singh and Ishant. Though Harbhajan took heavy toll of those death overs, Mumbai had made far too little before that for his runs to make too much of a difference.