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If Kieron Pollard is found dead in his hotel room in the next few days, you only have to look as far as Mitchell Johnson for the chief suspect. On Sunday, with Mumbai Indians desperate to defend a moderate 139 against the might of Chennai Super Kings’ batting, Pollard fluffed their top batsman – the redoubtable Michael Hussey – three times in as many balls at exactly the same spot.
It was the opening over of the chase, and Johnson the bowler was livid. Perhaps it was slightly alleviating for him to see Pollard being struck flush on the nose after he had flubbed his third-in-a-row. More likely, it was what Johnson did in his next over that would have healed the wounds – several times over.
In the span of six deliveries, the Aussie quick bowled Murali Vijay, had Suresh Raina caught by – surprise, surprise! – Pollard, and trapped a lethargic S. Badrinath in front, leaving Chennai reeling. It was a succession of blows the visitors couldn’t recover from, and once Dwayne Bravo, Hussey and MS Dhoni fell, the latter two to Pragyan Ojha, a massive 60-run defeat for the two-time champions was inevitable.
This was Chennai's first away loss this season, and their lowest IPL score: 79 in 15.2 overs. For the record, Pollard dropped yet another one, of Ravindra Jadeja off Johnson, in the concluding overs, taking his tally of spills to four.
Johnson finished with outstanding figures of 3/27 and equally responsible for the verdict were Rohit (39*, 30b) and Harbhajan Singh (25*, 11b), whose crucial 57-run stand in less than five overs had rescued Mumbai from sheer mediocrity when they had batted first.
The two points from the win bring the hosts back in reckoning for a berth in the top-four, with Sunrisers Hyderabad, Rajasthan Royals and Kolkata Knight Riders giving them company in the pursuit of the two lower spots.
Rohit elected to bat but Mumbai were deprived of momentum all through their innings, finding it only in the last five overs. The home side struggled against some controlled Chennai bowling. Sachin Tendulkar had another poor outing, an 18-ball 15 that contained an illusory four and six off rookie medium pacer Mohit, a knock that it took the substantive powers of Sir Ravindra Jadeja’s left-arm spin to end.
Tendulkar trapped leg-before, Sir Jadeja then focused on the two most destructive ingredients in Mumbai’s arsenal. The results were obvious: Kieron Pollard’s promotion led to his premature dismissal on the third ball he faced, an attempted hoick landing in long-on’s hands; Dinesh Karthik celebration of his return to Indian colours was curtained when he was taken by Raina again, this time at mid-wicket.
R. Ashwin – now decidedly ‘the other Ravi’ in the side, was held back by Dhoni until late, and his arrival was heralded by a now expected wicket. It was Ambati Rayudu on this occasion, his stumps flatten ed as he missed spanking a short, faster one.
Skipper Rohit meanwhile was still in the middle and with Harbhajan for company he orchestrated a minor revival, as Ben Laughlin, the weak link in Chennai’s iron-wrought chain, was taken to the cleaners.
Harbhajan added another maximum (the first having come off Ashwin) to his tally as Laughlin conceded 19 in an expensive last over. Mumbai’s 139 was competitive at best against Chennai’s deep batting pockets, but Johnson – despite butterfingers Pollard’s series of drops – proved to be a gamechanger at the starting of the unfortunate chase.