Rahane, Smith clinch thriller for Pune

Rising Pune Supergiant 187 for 3 (Smith 84*, Rahane 60) beat Mumbai Indians 184 for 8 (Buttler 38, Hardik 35*, Tahir 3-28, Bhatia 2-14) by seven wickets

One over can often change the course of a T20 game, and on Thursday it seemed as if Ashok Dinda had bowled that over. It was the most expensive 20th over in all IPL matches, and it cost Rising Pune Supergiant 30 runs. On another occasion, it could have cost them the match as well. On this occasion, however, Pune had already done just enough good work with the ball to keep Mumbai Indians, despite that 30-run over, down to a total of 184.

On a good batting pitch that seemed to quicken up under lights, it tested Pune’s batting, but proved just short of a winning total. Ajinkya Rahane set the chase up with 60 at a strike rate of 176.47, and Steven Smith steered them home with an ice-cool, unbeaten 84 off 54 balls. The equation came down to 10 off three balls, but Smith wasn’t going to be beaten – he finished the match with successive sixes off Kieron Pollard.

If there was one decisive factor that separated the two sides, it may have been the compositions of the two bowling attacks. Pune went into the match with two legspinners in Imran Tahir and Adam Zampa and a purveyor of stump-to-stump slow-medium cutters in Rajat Bhatia. These three ended up with combined figures of 6 for 68 in 10 overs. In the other ten overs, Pune’s three faster bowlers – Dinda, Deepak Chahar and Ben Stokes – combined to take one wicket and concede 114.

Tahir and Bhatia, in particular, had profited from the slightly two-paced nature of the pitch, where they got some balls to skid on and others to stop on the batsman. When the quicker bowlers bowled, however, the ball came on to the bat far more uniformly. Mumbai had an attack full of quicks and short on bowlers who could take the pace off the ball. They had left out Harbhajan Singh, their most capped player, and picked only one frontline spinner in Krunal Pandya.

Buttler opens for Mumbai

Mumbai sprang a surprise after being sent in, promoting Jos Buttler to open alongside Parthiv Patel. Pune probably didn’t expect this – before this, Buttler had only batted in the top three positions seven times in a 163-match T20 career, and in the IPL, he had only batted four times in the Powerplay.

Buttler made an immediate impression with his unpredictable movements around the crease and deft hands, spooking the raw Chahar in particular. There were three fours and three sixes in the Powerplay, the most eye-catching of them coming off successive balls from Stokes – a six shovelled down the ground and a six in the opposite direction, scooped over the wicketkeeper.

With Parthiv profiting from some loose bowling from Dinda at the other end, Mumbai raced to 61 for 1 in the Powerplay.

Tahir turns it

That one wicket came in the fifth over. With Buttler going the way he was, Smith, as he would later reveal at the presentation ceremony, brought Tahir on “earlier than he would have liked to”. Having just swept his first ball for four, Parthiv tried again, missed, and was bowled around his legs by a googly.

In his next over, Tahir dismissed Rohit Sharma and then Buttler – one bowled, one lbw, one with a googly, the other with a slider, both with balls that pitched on a perfect length – both batsmen were pinned to the crease – and skidded on. There was a bit of luck involved too; umpire S Ravi failed to spot a big inside-edge onto pad and sent Buttler on his way.

That immediately brought the run rate down. Nitish Rana found the leg-side boundary every now and then with pulls and slog-sweeps, but there was little else by way of boundary-scoring as Mumbai scored only 66 in the ten overs after the Powerplay. There were three more wickets too – two to Bhatia and one to Zampa.

That over

Before this match, Ashok Dinda had bowled the 20th over on 19 occasions, for an overall final-over economy rate of 12.8, the worst among all bowlers with a minimum of 10 final overs. He had conceded 25 or more in the 20th over on two previous occasions. When Steven Smith handed Dinda the ball to deliver the 20th over of Mumbai’s innings here, therefore, he must have done so with a certain amount of trepidation. For one, he had already conceded 28 from his first three overs.

Dinda had a field set for the wide yorker, and kept trying it and missing either the line or the length. It still needed a quality hitter to take four sixes off that bowling, and Mumbai had one in Hardik Pandya. He slapped a wide full-toss over the point boundary, held his shape for an extra fraction of a second to launch a back-of-the-hand slower ball over long-off, and whipped a straight, full ball over long-on. Then came another wide length ball – this one flew past the keeper off the edge – and a short ball that Pandya swatted over cow corner.

By the end of the over, 154 for 7 had become 184 for 8. Mumbai had never before lost while scoring 184 or more.

Rahane times it

Now, though, they ran into Rahane. He’s not the quickest scorer across conditions, but give him a pitch where the ball comes on to the bat and he can pepper the boundaries. He seemed to be carrying on from the form he showed in India’s small run chase in the Dharamsala Test, driving, chipping inside-out, and pulling with abandon. The surest sign of his form came when he came down the track to Krunal Pandya, found himself not close enough to the pitch of the ball to loft with a full extension of his arms, and checked his shot. The ball still managed to clear a leaping Kieron Pollard at long-on.

With a bit of help from Mumbai’s seamers, who offered him width too often for their own good, Rahane ended up scoring quicker than he has done in any of his previous IPL innings. By the time he was done, Supergiants were 93 for 2 in 10.1 overs.

Smith does the rest

When Rahane was caught on the square-leg boundary, Pune needed 92 from 59 balls, and when Stokes, their No. 4, fell for 21 off 14, they needed 42 off 28. By then, Smith had already reached his fifty, managing to dispatch any length and any line from any bowler into his favourite leg-side spots. He had also been dropped once, on 36, Rana putting down a fairly straightforward chance at deep square leg when Smith pulled Mitchell McClenaghan in the air.

Given all that, it should have been a canter, particularly with MS Dhoni walking in at No. 5, but it wasn’t. The ghost of Dinda’s over stretched this match into some pretty uncomfortable territory for Pune. Jasprit Bumrah and McClenaghan almost bowled the perfect 17th, 18th and 19th overs, cramping Dhoni with back-of-a-length bowling angling into him, but Smith and Dhoni managed to find late boundaries in each of those overs, capitalising on the smallest error.

Pollard, defending 13 off the last over, began by conceding just three singles. With 10 required off three, Smith manufactured an astonishing hit; getting on the front foot to a short-of-good-length slower ball and launching it, baseball-style, over long-on. The next ball was full and at his feet, and he whipped it effortlessly over deep midwicket.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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