The IPL is just never the same without Kieron Pollard at his best – with the bat, ball and particularly in the field. The big West Indian has not made much of an impact in any department of the game in IPL 2014, but on Monday, Pollard came up with a 'Wow' moment like only he can, pulling off a quite unbelievable catch.
Kevon Cooper was the man to find himself walking back to the pavilion thanks to Pollard's brilliance, with the Rajasthan Royals, in a precarious position while looking to chase down the 178 for three posted by the Mumbai Indians, falling prey to some absolute brilliance from the Trinidadian, who soared in the air like Michael Jordan to pluck the ball out of the sky -- one-handed mind -- and then having the presence of mind to flip the ball into the air as he stepped over the line, before jumping back in and pulling off another tremendous one-handed diving catch.
That stunning effort was the icing on the cake of a thoroughly convincing performance from the defending champions, desperate for a win to keep their slimmest of slim hopes of making the playoffs alive, in Ahmedabad. Michael Hussey (56) and Lendl Simmons (62) put on a brilliant 120-run opening partnership to set MI on their way to 178, before the spinners came to the fore to shut out the Royals to 153 for eight for a 25-run win, despite the best efforts of Karun Nair (48), Brad Hodge (40) and James Faulkner (31 n.o.).
The win, only their fourth in 11 matches, means the Mumbai Indians are still not mathematically out of the running for a top four spot, while the Rajasthan Royals missed out on an opportunity to tie with the Chennai Super Kings and Kings XI Punjab for first place, while also putting some daylight between them and the Kolkata Knight Riders.
It was a muddle of a chase from the Royals, who made several changes to their side, with the batsmen batting like they were chasing a score of 250 rather than 179. With the pressure of making the playoffs not quite as high as it is for the Mumbai Indians, all batsmen just decided to tonk from ball one with disastrous results.
Unmukt Chand, playing his first game in IPL 2014 and for the Royals, was brought in to open the innings with Karun Nair, with Ajinkya Rahane given a rest, but the Delhi youngster looked completely out of touch, soaking up nine deliveries for his two and holing out to Hussey in the deep trying to break the shackles off Pragyan Ojha in the third over.
Ojha would then pick up the RR skipper Shane Watson in his next over, with the right-hander mistiming an attempted thwack to the leg-side.
It was just a procession of wickets from there, as the MI spinners – Ojha (4-0-30-2), Harbhajan Singh (4-0-13-2) and Shreyas Gopal (4-0-25-2) -- took a complete stranglehold of the game, with the ball turning, with Sanju Samson, Kevon Cooper, Ankit Sharma and Stuart Binny all falling without troubling the scorers too much – the highlight of that period of play was not the spinners' bowling, though, with Pollard stealing the spotlight with that unbelievable catch.
As the Royals slipped to 69 for six, Nair, watching the collapse unfold around him, was in a league of his own, and if only the rest of the batsmen had given the opener more of the strike, the chase might have panned out differently.
Nair (48, 24b, 4x4, 3x6) perished in the 12th over to Harbhajan, looking for a big shot as the run rate climbed with Hodge (40, 30b, 3x6) and Faulkner (31, 21b, 1x4, 2x6) doing their best to take RR close to at least minimise the net run rate impact, if it does come into play later.
The first innings finally witnessed the Mumbai Indians putting up a really strong opening partnership, which in turn helped them post a big total. Too many times this season, MI have lost early wickets, which in turn has put the pressure on the middle order to perform, which more often than not, they haven't.
On Monday afternoon, however, there were no such problems as Simmons and the recalled Hussey built a brilliant opening alliance of 120 from 14.3 overs to put the pressure on the Royals bowlers.
Simmons was the man with the bulk of the strike early, on, but you could see that Hussey was in the mood right from ball one. The left-hander has not quite made a smooth transition from his comfort zone of the Chennai Super Kings to the Mumbai Indians this season, but perhaps MI should have persevered with the Australian for just that little bit longer – such is the undoubted class of the man – and they might not find themselves virtually out of contention for the playoffs.
Hussey played all those shots which made him one of the most popular and admired cricketers in world cricket, with the innings very much a throwback of the knocks he played time and again for CSK.
Without too much trouble, MI raced to 76 in the first ten overs, before both Hussey and Simmons stepped it up a little, hitting the long ball to great effect. The stage was set for a total close to 200, but two wickets, of the openers, in the same over just halted that momentum a little.
Simmons (62, 51b, 6x4, 2x6) fell first, holing out to Kevon Cooper at long-off, with Ankit Sharma then picking up his second wicket in the 15th over of the innings as Hussey (56, 39b, 3x4, 2x6) found the fielder in the deep, with Cooper again taking the catch, this time at long-on.
Kieron Pollard (14 n.o., 12b, 1x6) and Rohit Sharma took a while to get going, with the former not quite at his six-hitting best. Rohit (40, 19b, 3x4, 4x6), though, found his striking prowess perfectly in the last couple of overs to take the total close to 180, which in the end proved to be more than enough.