Rohit, Buttler brush aside 188 target

Mumbai Indians player Mitchell McClenaghan plays a shot during match 5 of the Vivo Indian Premier League ( IPL ) 2016 between the Kolkata Knight Riders and the Mumbai Indians held at the Eden Gardens Stadium in Kolkata on the 13th April 2016 Photo by Vipin Pawar/ IPL/ SPORTZPICS

It was entirely bewildering. Mitchell McClenaghan walked out at No. 4 for Mumbai Indians. It is not like the side is short of hitters. Mumbai spent INR 3.8 crores acquiring a new one for this year, but Jos Buttler caught fire only after the spark provided by McClenaghan’s eight-ball 20. The events between the 11th and the 15th overs of the chase decided the winner of the match Mumbai, by six wickets.

McClenaghan’s responsibility under normal circumstances – was to slip into Lasith Malinga’s shoes. Be the wicket-taker at the start and the enforcer at the end. Today, he was asked to disrupt the Kolkata Knight Riders spinners. And he was given the freedom to do so. Every single shot played by the New Zealand fast bowler was a slog. His second, third and fourth balls cleared the Eden Gardens boundaries. The eighth a wide full toss that he tried to slog sweep – led to his downfall but by then Mumbai had regained lost momentum. An equation of 101 off 60 balls had shrunk to 79 off 49.

It became 49 off 30 when Buttler followed a straight drive with pulled six off chinaman Brad Hogg. A scoop to the fine leg boundary – which established Buttler’s finesse – and two lofted cover drives – which established his power – deflated Knight Riders. Gautam Gambhir, who had taken the record (27) for the most fifties in the IPL earlier in the night, watched the ball soar and the chances for his team sink with every minute Buttler was on strike.

When Buttler eventually fell for 41 off 22 balls, the Mumbai captain, Rohit Sharma, back at his preferred opening position, provided more evidence of why he should be given as many overs as possible in a T20 game. Rohit held the innings together and even finished it off with an array of beautiful shots – a straight six and a deft glide to third man. He followed those up with an outrageous sweep taking an overpitched delivery coming at him with the express pace of Andre Russell from around the wicket, and deposited it at the midwicket boundary. Rohit averages 50.12 and strikes at 145.81 at Eden Gardens in T20 cricket. Mumbai, his team, have won eight out of 10 games at this venue, including the IPL title in 2013 and 2015.

Knight Riders’ batting may not have been as eye-catching as Mumbai’s but it was ever so efficient. Manish Pandey could find the boundary at will. He pulled his second ball to four, dominated the spin of Harbhajan Singh and J Suchith by virtue of his quick footwork and secured his fifty off only 26 balls. The standout shot though was a glide to third man off Jasprit Bumrah in the 13th over. The pitch was excellent for batting, but it was allowing the cutters some grip. Pandey saw the variation out of the bowler’s hand, waited for it to arrive and simply led it fly off the face of his bat.

His captain Gambhir was a little less adept at the end of the second over he was only 3 off 8 balls but a lot more determined. He hared back and forth for twos there were eight of them in his innings of 64 – and ensured he was at the crease for as much of the 20 overs as possible. Andre Russell bludgeoned 36 off 17 balls to give the Knight Riders a total they thought was more than par.

But their most trusted weapon – spin bowling was dismantled by Rohit and company. Hogg, Kuldeep Yadav and Piyush Chawla cost 103 in 11.1 overs. There was no coming back from that.