The second match of this season’s IPL saw an entertaining encounter between Rising Pune Supergiants and Mumbai Indians. Although Mumbai put on a daunting target for the Pune outfit, captain Steve Smith inspired his side to an impressive seven-wicket win to start the campaign.
Looking back, Rohit Sharma will rue the missed opportunity to dismiss the Australian skipper before he had reached his half-century. It was the last bowl of the 13th over when Smith hit one straight to Nitish Rana standing at deep square leg. Rana, however, dropped the sitter and that eventually proved to be too costly for his team.
Earlier, Smith, who replaced MS Dhoni as the captain of the Pune franchise, won the crucial toss and chose to bowl first on a pitch that had a tinge of green.
Tahir takes off
However, Mumbai were off to a flying start courtesy of some power-hitting from Jos Buttler. Buttler was given the opportunity to open the innings in place of Rohit and he did not disappoint.
Imran Tahir, who was brought in by Pune as a replacement for the injured Mitchell Marsh, did wonders with the ball. He first got rid of Parthiv Patel who was beginning to look dangerous and then got the big man Rohit Sharma with a beautiful delivery that slid in. The South African international was then fortunate to get rid of the free-scoring Buttler as the ball clearly took the inside-edge onto the pads.
After that, wickets kept falling at regular intervals with veteran Rajat Bhatia doing the trick for Pune. The medium pacer first fooled Ambati Rayudu into mistiming his drive and then picked up the wicket of Krunal Pandya.
Nitish Rana held one end but he was dismissed when he tried to loft Adam Zampa over mid-wicket for a six. Kieron Pollard, who survived a close call early on, tried to do some damage but he too succumbed trying to go for the big hit.
It was looking like Mumbai would fall at least 10-15 runs short in the first innings. But Hardik Pandya had other ideas. He went on to hit four sixes and edged one for a boundary in the last over of the innings as Ashoke Dinda conceded 30 runs.
No easy task for Pune
Pune had their task cut out. Chasing 185, on a wicket that seemed to quicken up as the game progressed, was always going to be difficult. Ajinkya Rahane, however, was not one to give up without a fight. He played a strokeful innings, which included six boundaries and three over boundaries, and was looking dangerous. But he was soon dismissed, for 60 off 34 balls, midway through the chase, and it seemed like Mumbai were still in the game.
Smith, who had come in after the dismissal of Mayank Agarwal, was until then playing second fiddle to Rahane. After Rana pulled off a blinder to dismiss Rahane, Smith decided to take on the Mumbai bowlers.
He hit two boundaries off Mitchell McClenaghan through the leg-side in the 13th over. McClenaghan, though, responded brilliantly and had Smith cramped for room off the last ball of the over. But the Australian skipper attempted a pull, nonetheless.
The ball flew to Rana, who managed to flounder the one chance. Running towards his left, Rana had it all covered but just couldn’t grasp it. At that time, Smith was batting on 36 off 31 balls with the score reading 113-2. An over later, he would go on to complete his half-century off just 37 balls.
About five overs later, he would hit Pollard for two massive sixes to win the match for his side. He finished unbeaten on 84 off just 54 deliveries, with seven fours and three sixes.
With the help of Pandya’s last moment blitzkrieg and some impressive bowling at the death by Jasprit Bumrah, Mumbai were still nourishing some hope. But all work was undone as Smith helped Pune cross the line with one ball to spare.
It was one of those innings from the 27-year-old in which he did not present another opportunity. He was sensational – rotating the strike and hitting the boundaries when needed – and played the perfect captain’s knock.
Had Rana taken the easy catch, things could have been very different. Ben Stokes could not really get going and Dhoni was never looking comfortable. The pressure would have mounted on the Pune batsmen and Mumbai could have ended up winning the tie. However, it was not to be.