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Punjab stay afloat with seven-run victory

Wisden India logo Wisden India 11-05-2017

© ASSOCIATED PRESS On a night where an aggregate of 453 runs were scored, Wriddhiman Saha’s breathtaking 93 off 55 balls, brilliant fielding from Martin Guptill and an excellent last over from Mohit Sharma steered Kings XI Punjab to a seven-run win on Thursday (May 11) as they tamed table-toppers Mumbai Indians in their den at the Wankhede Stadium, and kept their playoff chances alive in the Indian Premier League 2017.

Mumbai opted to field, but a combination of wayward bowling and determined batting allowed Punjab to amass 230 for 3, the highest total of the season. The West Indian might of Lendl Simmons (59 off 32) and Kieron Pollard (50 not out off 24) nearly pulled off a record chase, but Punjab managed to keep Mumbai down to 223 for 6.

Rohit Sharma, the Mumbai captain, got the team together in a huddle immediately after Punjab’s batsmen walked off the field, and it was clear from the body language that the side was not going to walk away without putting up a fight.

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They set the tone with a four off the first ball, bowled by Sandeep Sharma, and simply motored on from there. Simmons, in particular, was brutal against the pacers as Mumbai notched up 68 without loss in the Power Play. He should’ve been gone for 44, but Mohit dropped a straightforward catch off Axar Patel at long-off. To add insult to injury, he went and slammed two sixes to bring up his fifty.

The opening stand between him and Parthiv Patel ballooned to 99 before Manan Vohra caught the latter at mid-off.

But what proved the game-changer was Guptill’s stellar reflexes. He held onto three catches, the first, and most important, to dismiss Simmons off Glenn Maxwell, plucking the ball seemingly headed for a six over long-on with one hand and a well-timed leap. He had a hand too, quite literally, in the dismissals of Rohit (5) and Nitish Rana (12).

At that stage, Mumbai were 121 for 4, requiring a steep 110 from 44 balls. It looked nigh impossible, but Pollard and Hardik Pandya weren’t going to wave the white flag just yet. Instead, it was the Mumbai crowd waving their blue ones as Pollard and Pandya walloped two sixes each to carve out 27 runs in the 16th over from Matt Henry.

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Pandya (30 off 13) then got a thick edge in the next over from Sandeep and Saha took a sharp, tumbling catch to his right. But Mumbai kept going, 16 runs coming off the next four balls.

Pollard was expected to be the big threat, but Karn Sharma showed he could pack a punch too with a six-ball 19. Sandeep, however, held his nerve, sneaking in a quiet, seven-run over in the 19th to leave Mumbai needing 16 off the final six balls.

Pollard tried to be clever, running two runs off the first ball before the umpire noticed he hadn’t made his crease for the first run and called it one short. Having retained the strike, Pollar smacked the next ball for a six. But Mohit held his nerve to ensure only one run was conceded off the next four balls to keep his team alive.

Punjab came out all guns blazing earlier in the day as 71 runs come in the Power Play. Guptill fell at the end of it but not before smacking the hapless Mumbai bowlers all across the park during his 18-ball 36.

While Jasprit Bumrah (1 from 24) kept things tight, going for 12 in his two opening overs, Pandya, Mitchell McClenaghan and Lasith Malinga were guilty of some loose bowling, and the opening duo of Guptill and Saha cashed in.

Maxwell, promoting himself to No. 3, then took the baton from Guptill and ran. Rohit brought his spinners back, but Maxwell welcomed Karn with two sixes and Harbhajan Singh with three more to take his own score to 41 off 14 and the team to 121 for 1 in just the ninth over.

A fifty, if not much more, seemed there for the taking for Maxwell, but he misread a ball from Bumrah and was bowled for 47 off 21. That, however, didn’t stop the bleeding as Saha, going unnoticed in the 63-run stand with the Punjab captain, soon began to impose himself.

Having watched his partners do the six-hitting till then, Saha came down the wicket to Harbhajan and tonked one over midwicket to bring up his fifty in 31 balls. Shaun Marsh (25 off 16) and Saha stitched together Punjab’s third fifty-run partnership of the innings and though the former fell to McClenaghan, with Axar around to swing his bat, the side’s previous highest total — 232 for 2 v Royal Challengers Bangalore in Dharamsala in 2011 — was looking under serious threat.

They didn’t get there, nor did Saha get to triple figures, courtesy some relatively tight bowling in overs 17, 18 and 19, but it was just about enough in the end.

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