Ricky Ponting made a winning start to his coaching career as his Mumbai Indians trumped the Chennai Super Kings by 41 runs to lift their second IPL title at Eden Gardens, Kolkata.
Swashbuckling fifties to Lendl Simmons and Rohit Sharma led the way for Mumbai before Kieron Pollard and Ambati Rayudu provided them with the kind of finish that the start deserved.
Chasing more than 10 an over from the very beginning of a chase is tough enough but to do that in a pressure final was never going to be easy.
A below-par start from Chennai only pushed the required-rate into the realms of the improbable, and it was exploited to the fullest by Lasith Malinga and Harbhajan Singh, leaving them with too much to do in the final stretch of their chase.
Chennai’s underwhelming top-order batting coming into the final few games of the season came back to haunt them again but it was their bowling performance that ultimately led to their demise in the final.
MS Dhoni opted to field first after winning the toss, but with Rohit Sharma admitting he would have batted first anyway, both captains got what they wanted.
Unsurprisingly, both sides went in unchanged for the final.
After the wicket of Parthiv Patel, run-out to one of the most brilliant pieces of fielding of the season from Faf du Plessis, Mumbai were restricted to just one run from the opening eight balls of the match and Dhoni’s decision to field first appeared like it could be vindicated.
As early as the ninth ball, the momentum began to shift when captain Rohit got off the mark with a top-edged six over third-man. Two fours followed in the same over and two more in the next as Mumbai were away on what seemed like a very flat Eden Gardens track.
The early introduction of Ravichandran Ashwin didn’t help either, as it was the turn of Simmons to take him on in his very first over.
Rohit’s first 10 balls saw him smash 25 runs and Simmons followed up with 30 runs of his own in the next three overs.
Mumbai ended the Powerplay overs with 61 on the board and Dhoni was already looking around the field for bowling options.
Fielders went back after six overs but the boundaries rarely ceased.
Pawan Negi conceded eight runs in the first over after the Powerplay, before Rohit jumped down the crease to Ashwin and swung it over long-on for a six next over. Negi and Mohit Sharma then gave away 10 apiece in the next couple of overs to bring Mumbai close to the 100-run mark at the halfway point of the innings.
Simmons had brought up his sixth IPL half-century of the season by this time requiring just 39 balls to reach the milestone.
Accentuating Chennai’s problems was a combination of an easy-paced surface, an outfield that was shorn of any friction and some very wayward bowling.
When the bowlers found their length, their lines were awry, and when they got that right, they were invariably too full and the batsmen made the most of the inconsistency.
Unlike at Ranchi, where Dhoni could call upon his slow bowlers to stem the scoring, the trio of Ashwin, Negi and Ravindra Jadeja shared just six overs between them. They conceded 65 from them.
Dwayne Bravo has almost always been introduced in the second half of the innings this season, but if there was an occasion when he could have been brought in earlier, it was here. With 24 wickets in the season going into the final, he had the confidence under his belt, and the variations in his bag to test the batsmen.
And his introduction proved that. Rohit did smack him for a couple of boundaries to get to his fifty, but Bravo got his sweet revenge when a clumsy swipe from the Mumbai captain went straight to the long-on fielder.
Dhoni looked to have compensated for that potential error in judgement by getting Dwayne Smith on the very next over as the Barbadian struck first ball. The other set batsman, Simmons, failed to keep a very full ball out and was bowled. In a span of two deliveries, the game looked to have turned on its head as Mumbai not only fell to 3-120 but also had two new batsmen at the crease.
For the second time in the game, there was a short spell when Mumbai were on their way to being derailed only to be rescued by a stunning counter-attack. Pollard and Rayudu were the batsmen involved in this instance.
While Mohit seemed to have blocked their quickly-burgeoning partnership with a four-run over, the 16th of the innings, the lid was off in the very next one.
Nehra, who had won three player-of-the-match awards this season, had been the pick of the bowlers going into the 17th over. Six balls later, Pollard had destroyed his figures, helping himself to three sixes and a four from them. Twenty-three runs came from that over, and 52 from the final four, to push the Mumbai Indians to more than 200 from their 20 overs.
For Chennai to come close to Mumbai’s total required them to get off to a flier but the Indians looked to learn from the mistakes of their opposition.
The lengths had been pulled back to short of a good length and even when they went for the bouncer, it was delivered with purpose. Batsmen weren’t given room outside the off, not as much as the Mumbai batsmen, and the writing was on the wall as a result.
Michael Hussey, fresh from a match-winning fifty last game on a more difficult pitch, failed to get going. He faced nine balls, of which he hit a boundary off one, failed to score from seven and was dismissed off the last.
His opening partner, Smith, lasted longer out in the middle, but his lack of aggression was as striking as it was surprising. There were nine fours and a six in his knock but there were also 23 dots in his innings that ensured the pressure remained firmly on the batting team.
After six overs, Chennai were only 1-31. At the halfway stage, the run-rate had nudged over to more than six. And while Smith cracked three boundaries in the 11th over of the chase, it turned out to be their best over of the innings till the final over cost them 21, by which time the game was over.
Mumbai continued to make things difficult for Chennai and most ways back into the game looked sealed. And once Harbhajan Singh’s zooter saw the end of the much-settled Smith and then had Raina stumped off a quicker, wider one, the game was all but finished.
Dhoni was still at the crease at that stage and helped himself to a six off Malinga but by then it had become a case of too little, too late and Mumbai completed a comprehensive victory. (Courtesy Cricket.com.au)