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Fantastic Finch leads Lions to third straight win

Wisden India logo Wisden India 16-04-2016

The ninth edition of the Indian Premier League was always going to be measured in relative terms with the recently concluded successful World Twenty20. So far none of the games had been nail-biters, but Mumbai Indians, the defending champions, and Gujarat Lions, the table toppers, came together to produce a thriller at the Wankhede Stadium on Saturday (April 16), with the visitors holding their nerve to clinch a three-wicket win off the last ball of the match and keep their winning run intact.

Chasing 144, Gujarat were left needing 12 off the last seven balls when Aaron Finch, the key protagonist with an unbeaten 54-ball 67 who pulled his hamstring in the 18th over, played Mitchell McClenaghan to point and ran. He gave up midway through the pitch, but Harbhajan Singh missed hitting the stumps at the bowling end and that crucially brought Finch on strike at the start of last over bowled by Jasprit Bumrah.

Finch, who now has three half-centuries and three Man of the Match awards in three games, took three off the first two balls before Dhawal Kulkarni, playing his first game of the competition, drove an overpitched delivery to the cover fence and put Gujarat ahead. With one needed off one ball, Finch pulled for his seventh four to seal the deal. He had marked the start of the business end of the chase with a six off Harbhajan in the last ball of the 16th over.

It was fitting that the most important hit of the night came from Kulkarni’s bat, as he was the one who had set the base for this win. Even though Gujarat conceded 55 runs in the last four overs because of some inventive hitting and ordinary bowling, they had done a tremendous job at the top of the innings to keep Mumbai to 143 for 8.

Suresh Raina needed someone to plug the huge gap left by the absence of Ravindra Jadeja, who is getting married on Sunday, and Kulkarni provided the answer with some splendid seam bowling.

Kulkarni started the second over of the match with an overpitched delivery that Rohit Sharma drove to the cover boundary. He immediately pulled his length back and was rewarded when Rohit flicked one straight to Shadab Jakati at square-leg. The pair combined to dismiss Hardik Pandya in similar fashion in Kulkarni’s next over, though it was with a short ball.

That Kulkarni returned figures of 3-1-13-2 in the Power Play overs was because of the quality support he received from Praveen Kumar at the other end. The duo got the ball to swing both ways and drew a few leading edges, as Mumbai managed only 31 for 2 in the first six overs.

Jakati was the first to benefit from the pressure created by Praveen and Kulkarni when he fired one outside the leg stump and had Jos Buttler stumped. Praveen Tambe struck with his first ball, when Dwayne Bravo caught Kieron Pollard at long-on.

Having seen four wickets fall at the other end, Parthiv Patel tried to accelerate but was caught beautifully by James Faulkner at deep square-leg as Tambe picked up his second wicket. Harbhajan was deceived by Bravo’s slower ball and an edgy Ambati Rayudu was bowled trying to be adventurous.

At 99 for 7 in 17 overs, Mumbai were truly on the back foot, but Krunal Pandya, on IPL debut, played a few cheeky shots behind the wicket to give the innings a push. While in the previous two wins, Gujarat had conceded a lot of runs at the start before pulling things back in the death overs; the template was reversed in this game.

The focus then shifted to Finch’s role in the chase. Mumbai were brilliant on the field in the manner in which they pulled back things after the second-wicket partnership of 53 runs between Finch and Raina. While the seamers cut down the pace and used their cutters to good effect, the spinners curtailed the batsmen’s stroke-making options. It could have been a great comeback, but the lady luck was shining on Finch and Kulkarni.

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