Punjab Kings 132 for 1 (Rahul 60*, Gayle 43*) beat Mumbai Indians 131 for 6 (Sharma 63, Yadav 33, Shami 2-21, Bishnoi 2-21) by nine wickets
Only the Punjab Kings could make a comprehensive nine-wicket victory look like an existential crisis. But on another stodgy, spin-friendly deck at Chepauk, they were made to battle for every run of a sub-par target of 132, as the champions, Mumbai Indians, turned to the spin contingent of their hugely versatile attack to take an apparent stroll deep into the death overs.
The chase was eventually sealed with 14 balls to spare, thanks to a disciplined stand of 79 from 62 balls between KL Rahul and Chris Gayle, who swallowed their pride and soaked up the dot balls, in the knowledge that the asking rate was never likely to get out of hand in the circumstances.
Nevertheless, as the legspinner Rahul Chahar once again led the line in a daunting spell of 4-0-19-1, he was ably assisted by the offbreaks of Jayant Yadav (4-0-20-0), whose dispatching by Gayle for a vast six over long-on in the 15th over inadvertently reawakened Mumbai’s interest. The drier replacement ball began to bite the dry surface with renewed venom, and both batsmen had some exceptionally dicey moments at the denouement – not least Rahul, who brought up a run-a-ball fifty with a leading edge into no-man’s land at square leg.
Inevitably, it was left to the Universe Boss to put the contest beyond doubt, as he swivelled into a pull for six off Trent Boult’s first ball of his comeback over. Rahul joined the pile-on with a swipe over long-on, before a fast edge through third man sealed Punjab’s first victory since their opening match of the tournament.
Fifth bowler first for Kings
It was topsy-turvy from the outset from the the Kings, and it turned Mumbai’s intentions inside-out.
Moises Henriques had bowled a solitary over in this tournament to date, and that may have been out of desperation after a flying start to the Sunrisers’ run-chase in last week’s nine-wicket defeat. But therein lay the beginnings of a cunning plan, as Henriques – with three cheap overs – and Deepak Hooda, equally unaccustomed to being called upon so early in an innings, were charged with cramping Mumbai’s style in the powerplay.
The pair, and latterly Mohammad Shami, were aided and abetted by a strangely unalert Rohit Sharma, whose intent appeared to have been anaesthetised on a surface with which Mumbai have become suspiciously familiar in the course of their first four matches.
Sharma might have been run out off the second ball of the game after jogging for his first run, and his surfeit of caution was summed up when he even patted a shin-high full-toss from Henriques to long-on for another single – though he made amends one over later for Mumbai’s first boundary of the night.
Quinton de Kock never got going either, as Hooda’s darting offbreaks lured him into a wafty drive to mid-on, and even the habitually unfettered Ishan Kishan was unable to escape first gear, as Mumbai limped to 21 for 1 in the first six overs, their joint-second-lowest powerplay total in IPL history. In the process, Punjab had burgled five overs from their least-vaunted bowlers, and as if to celebrate, Ravi Bishnoi – newly called up as a legspinning replacement for M Ashwin – did for a becalmed Kishan with a big-spinning googly in his opening over.
Rohit provides ballast but no fireworks
Sharma has never been afraid to take his time to build an innings. A brace of steered boundaries from Fabian Allen’s first two balls lifted his strike-rate into credit, and at 25 from 22 balls in the eighth over, he was now ready to go deep. In Allen’s next over, Sharma pumped him over the leg side for Mumbai’s first six, and Hooda was similarly dispatched when he returned for a ten-run third over in the 12th. With Suryakumar Yadav picking up on the change of tempo too, Sharma rushed to his fifty from 40 balls with a front-foot steer through backward point off Bishnoi.
But the Kings’ early stranglehold was never entirely loosened, even as Suryakumar began to crank up the style with a scoop over backward square off Bishnoi and a whippy pick-up through long-on off Shami. On 33, though, he top-edged a switch-hit off Bishnoi to Gayle at short fine leg. With Kieron Pollard still on 0 and focussed merely on seeing off the final balls of his zippy tight-lined spell, Bishnoi trimmed his bails with the googly as Rahul too failed to pick the variation.
One over later, the Kings had the big one. Sharma rocked into a pull to deep midwicket as Shami returned to the attack, and had to go for 63 from 52 balls. It was Mumbai’s highest individual score of the campaign to date, and a clear indication that run-making on this surface is far from straightforward.
Fast start, slow finish
Mumbai launched their defence with a waspish first over from Boult that conceded just a single, but Krunal Pandya’s deployment in the powerplay was less of a roaring success. A brace of fours for Rahul gave way to a glorious pulled six over extra cover from Mayank Agarwal, to provide a kick-start that would prove match-defining.
But Chahar, with analyses of 4 for 27 and 3 for 19 already in this tournament, is in some fine form right now. He nearly struck with his third ball as Rahul pushed airily but just out of the bowler’s reach, a let-off that persuaded the captain to play the long game with his spitting, bouncy legbreaks.
On 25, however, Agarwal allowed himself to be hypnotised by Chahar’s line and loop, as he flapped into a half-formed drive over long-on, and was already rehearsing the sweep he should have played as Suryakumar swallowed the chance.
Without missing a beat, Sharma called the offspin of Jayant into the attack, who confirmed the rising tension with a brace of single-run overs, as Gayle stretched onto the front foot to acquaint his bat with the middle of the ball. And as he and Rahul traded in singles in Chahar’s third over, Punjab were visibly torn as to stick or twist with the required rate stretching towards 7.5.
Gayle briefly lost patience as Chahar twirled into his final over, so nearly losing his off stump to an ill-conceived cut. However, a shovelled pull past fine leg was a reminder that even the best bowlers would lapse occasionally. The same trick got Gayle’s innings properly up and running in Jayant’s next over, as he risked lbw to nick another boundary behind square.
At that moment, Jayant finally strayed into Gayle’s arc for more familiar thump through wide long-on, but those were the last runs he would concede as the replacement ball spat viciously past his edge for the remainder of the over. Krunal found similar assistance on his return to the attack, but ultimately Mumbai were left to rue a batting performance that had been fractionally too deferential to the conditions. But at least they are off to pastures new in Delhi next week. Two wins from five in Chennai is not a disaster, but it’s left the champions playing catch-up.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket