It took one week for IPL 2016 to finally deliver a blockbuster. Gujarat Lions controlled the game for a better part of 35 overs, before slipping in the next four to bring the equation down to 11 off the final over. Aaron Finch, who overcame bouts of cramps and a twitch to his hamstring, was running on empty by then. Fortunately for them, Dhawal Kulkarni, who returned to the venue he has grown up playing on, channelised 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, and Lions sneaked home by three wickets to consolidate their position at the top of the standings.
Kulkarni and Pravin Tambe, who know what it takes to bowl on the Wankhede track having plied their wares for Mumbai in the domestic circuit, were central to Lions’ bowling plans. The pair returned combined figures of 6-1-31-4 to rip the heart out of Mumbai Indians’ celebrated batting line-up. Finch then showed different shades of his batting in a composed unbeaten 67 in a 144-chase to help Lions extend their unbeaten streak to three matches.
What appeared to be a straightforward chase hit a road block as Lions slipped from a comfortable 65 for 1 to 83 for 4. Suresh Raina’s dismissal to a Mitchell McClenaghan bouncer triggered the slide. Dinesh Karthik’s sweep that found a leaping Harbhajan Singh at deep backward square leg to give Krunal Pandya his first IPL wicket injected life into the contest.
When Dwayne Bravo was given out caught behind off Mitchell McClenaghan in controversial circumstances – replays suggested there was no deflection, Lions were in strife. The wickets off James Faulkner and Praveen Kumar to outstanding catches by Parthiv Patel off McClenaghan gave Mumbai a sniff, before they saw a spirited fightback being extinguished by Kulkarni and Finch.
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. There was swing, bounce and zip off the deck which made it an intriguing contest between bat and ball. By resisting the temptation to pick Martin Guptill, Mumbai showed faith in the same batting group that made light work of Kolkata Knight Riders. But they didn’t justify that decision by playing too many shots to find themselves in a hole at 77 for 5, with only Parthiv Patel showing some semblance of application in a 29-ball 34.
Ambati Rayudu chipped in with a 19-ball 20 at No. 6 to keep take Mumbai close to the 100-run mark, before a final assault from Tim Southee and Krunal Pandya, on IPL debut, who made 25 and 20 not out respectively helped Mumbai blast 61 off the last five overs and finish with 143 for 8.
Mumbai couldn’t have asked for a better fillip first up as Jasprit Bumrah saw off Brendon McCullumin the second over. Raina was then put 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 elements. 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 real wobble and dig in to their reserves to eke out a memorable win.