The seventh game of IPL 2017 between Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knight Riders at Wankhede Stadium will go down in the history books as one of the closest games of the tournament. Chasing 179 in a T20 game may not sound daunting, but milking 59 runs off the last 23 deliveries against a quality bowling attack does sound incredible.
It was a difficult job in picking the SK Player of the Day as the two contenders - Nitish Rana and Hardik Pandya - were equally instrumental in MI’s scintillating victory. But eventually, the vote goes to the young Delhi batsman, Nitish Rana.
Rana was elevated to No. 3 in the batting order, a move which raised many eyebrows. In cricket, the team’s best batsman bats at No. 3, but, after the fall of Parthiv Patel, when the jam-packed stadium expected Rohit Sharma, in walked Rana.
Extra Cover: Pandya fires again to secure Mumbai victory
The task given to the 23-year-old Delhi batsman was simple: strike big and take on the KKR bowlers. His role was not to anchor the innings but to launch an attack and break the shackles. But things turned out to be different and he adapted beautifully as per the situation.
Jos Buttler fell victim to Jasprit Burma after which Rohit was also given out in the 10th over with more than 100 runs needed; both the leg before decisions looked like bad calls. The pressure was on MI after a solid start to their run-chase. With two wickets falling in quick succession, Rana’s role changed and MI now needed him to stay at the crease for a while. Rana responded and curbed his natural instincts to meet the requirements of the team.
MI had the dew advantage in their favour but to make it count they had to drag the game till the final overs. Rana batted with guile, pouncing on deliveries in his zone and rotating the strike off the good ones. His consecutive boundaries and a six to Kuldeep Yadav was just a glimpse of his ability to accelerate and make the most of the deliveries pitched in his zone.
Soon, Krunal Pandya departed for 11 but Rana stood tall. And when Kieron Pollard was dismissed, MI were reduced to 119 for 5 with 59 runs needed from 23 deliveries and just two recognised batsman at the crease. Rana gelled extremely well with Hardik to carry the team over the line.
The left-hander was on 23 off 19 when Hardik joined him out in the middle. Not many would have expected MI to pull this one off from this stage but the duo proved the doubters wrong. From 29 off 23 deliveries, Rana raced to his 50 in the next six deliveries. He hit two sixes and an equal number of boundaries in the next six deliveries he faced.
The Delhi batsman sliced his 24th ball by Trent Boult towards third man area for a boundary. Boult missed his length once again while attempting to bowl a yorker and ended up delivering a low full-toss on the leg-stump; Rana flicked it to perfection for a maximum and the put the bowler under the barrel. Hardik did the rest of the damage to Boult and the equation was now 20 off 12.
Ankit Rajpoot was putting in the hard yards, and Rana anticipated the length quickly and scooped the very first ball of the over for a six. With the dew posing problems for the KKR bowlers, Rana was gifted another low full-toss and this time he lofted it over mid-off for a much-needed boundary and brought up his fifty off 28 deliveries.
The stadium erupted in joy and acknowledged the valiant performance of a youngster under immense pressure. MI now needed 20 from 10 deliveries with a storming Rana and hard-hitting Pandya at the crease.
The next delivery was a wide; Rana looked to carve the third delivery, which was full outside off through point and use the pace of the bowler. But only ended up in the hands of Sunil Narine at point.
Rana was dismissed for 50 but the damage was done and MI now required 19 from 9 deliveries. It was all down to Hardik to bail the team out, which he successfully did, and was equally favoured by luck on this occasion. The dramatic last over saw a comical misfield and a crucial dropped catch, which handed MI their first victory of the season.