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Raina, Smith take Gujarat into playoffs

Wisden India logo Wisden India 21-05-2016

Aggressive knocks by Suresh Raina, Brendon McCullum and Dwayne Smith took Gujarat Lions into the playoffs and in the process nearly knocked Mumbai Indians out of the 2016 Indian Premier League in Kanpur on Saturday (May 21).

Nitish Rana’s whirlwind 36-ball 70 had powered Mumbai to a good total of 172 for 8, but Gujarat made light work of the chase and crossed the line in 17.5 overs. Raina (58 off 36) and McCullum (48 off 27) laid the foundation with a 96-run second-wicket stand in 54 balls before Smith (37 not out off 23) applied the finishing touches.

Mumbai had some luck going their way with a few dubious umpiring decisions, but a combination of poor fielding, poor bowling and a flat pitch meant the defending champions are staring at elimination.

For Mumbai to go through, they have to hope that Sunrisers Hyderabad defeat Kolkata Knight Riders and Royal Challengers Bangalore get past Delhi Daredevils – both by big margins – to leave a three-way net-run rate clash between Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi on 14 points. Mumbai’s net run-rate of (-0.146) is currently the worst amongst the three teams.

Gujarat’s chase started on the worst possible note when Aaron Finch, who replaced Smith as an opener, was trapped leg before by Vinay Kumar off the second ball. That would, however, be the only reason to cheer for Mumbai for a while.

The pitch was an absolute belter and the pair of Raina and Brendon McCullum took charge of the chase in style. Raina kickstarted the attack by taking Mitchell McClenaghan for 18 runs in the third over and McCullum followed suit, hammering Krunal Pandya for two fours and a six. It didn’t help Mumbai that Jasprit Bumrah dropped a return catch off Raina when he was on 31.

With plenty of fielding lapses and boundaries flying everywhere, Gujarat raced to 71 for 1 in the Power Play. This, despite the first over being a wicket-maiden.

The field restrictions ended but the barrage of boundaries didn’t, as McCullum and Raina matched each other stroke for stroke. McCullum fell in the 10th over when Harbhajan Singh went through his sweep, but by the end of the over, Gujarat had already reached 100.

Raina went past his half-century off 30 balls with a couple of boundaries off Vinay but a bit of luck kept Mumbai in the game. Dinesh Karthik was wrongly adjudged caught-behind to Vinay despite the ball going off the thigh pad. Raina followed soon, a leading edge off Bumrah sailing high and falling in Jos Buttler’s gloves.

The equation – 51 off 46 – and the loss of two quick wickets was perhaps a reason to panic but Gujarat had more firepower to come in the form of Smith. The big West Indian batsman made light work of the remaining part of the chase with some brutal hitting, especially off Harbhajan who was hammered for two sixes and a four.

Earlier, the first six overs of Mumbai’s innings were dramatic with both sides punching alternately. Fortune first swung Mumbai’s way with Rohit Sharma enjoying some massive luck in the second over when K Nandan, the umpire, wrongly thought he had got an inside edge and denied Dhawal Kulkarni a plumb leg before decision.

The Mumbai skipper celebrated the life by smashing Kulkarni for a six off the very next ball, but the bowler had his revenge in his next over when Rohit pulled straight to deep square-leg.

The big fish was gone, and Dwayne Smith then added to Mumbai’s woes with two more crucial scalps in the fifth over. Martin Guptill first swatted a simple catch to mid-on while Krunal, Mumbai’s hero in their previous game, top-edged to deep square-leg two balls later. It left Mumbai at 45 for 3, and in a lot of trouble.

But as has been the case with Mumbai in the past, a star emerged out of nowhere in the most crucial of situations. This time, it came in the form of Rana. The left-hand batsman started his innings with a boundary through the legside and never looked back. He consolidated for a brief period along with a steady Jos Buttler, and once his eye was in, launched a counter-attack with a wide range of strokes.

Boundaries were scored either side of the wicket but the most impressive aspect of the display was his ability to hit Ravindra Jadeja and Shadab Jakati, Gujarat’s left-arm spinners, in typical left-hander’s style over cow-corner.

Buttler was undone by a sharp return catch by Dwayne Bravo but Rana carried on, smashing Jakati for three boundaries to go past his maiden IPL half-century in just 28 balls.

However, once he was foxed by a Bravo slower ball off the last ball of the 17th over, the innings went back to pre-Rana mode. Bravo, Kulkarni and Praveen Kumar got their lengths and variations to perfection in the death to once again swing the momentum Gujarat’s way, with Mumbai managing just 27 runs in the final four overs.

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