Harbhajan Singh seems to have a new lease on life in IPL 2013. The discarded and temperamental Indian off-spinner continued his impressive season, picking up three key wickets, and with some help from Dwayne Smith with the bat, guided the Mumbai Indians to a tense four-wicket win over the Rajasthan Royals.
The win in Qualifier 2 takes the Mumbai Indians to the IPL 2013 final on Sunday against the Chennai Super Kings, the team that thrashed them a few days back.
After the match was delayed by over an hour due to rain, the Royals, choosing to bat first, battled their way to 165 for six, courtesy a solid 43 from skipper Rahul Dravid, in what could very well be unfortunately his last match, and some last-minute hitting from Dishant Yagnik.
Harbhajan, having his best IPL ever, picked up three wickets in his four overs, to seriously threaten to derail the Royals innings on a good pitch for batting, before some last-minute hitting got the embattled side past the 160 mark.
In reply, the Mumbai Indians seemed to be making light work of the target, with Smith (62 in 44 balls) leading the side home, before a mini-collapse set up a close finish, with Mumbai just about prevailing in the end, finishing on 169 for six in 19.5 overs.
The Royals, under the admirable leadership of Dravid, can leave with their heads high, though, after another brilliant performance against the odds in what has been a terribly difficult season for them.
The Mumbai Indians pressed the cruise mode button right from the off, although they were helped by some generous Royals fielding on the way.
Dwayne Smith, after his belligerent yet fruitless half-century against CSK, took his form to the Eden Gardens, looking to dominate the bowlers from the first delivery. Aditya Tare, filling in admirably for the injured Sachin Tendulkar, was also going great guns at the other end -- a pulls shot for six particularly standing out.
The Mumbai Indians eased to 45 for now loss after six overs, maintain the run rate at just below eight runs an over, and with it making sure the required rate never really got out of hand.
With ten wickets in hand, the openers could continue looking for the boundaries even after the powerplay overs, and Tare (35, 27b, 3x4, 2x6) succumbed while attempting another big shot, holing out to Sanju Samson at long-on off Kevon Cooper with the first-wicket partnership yielding 70 runs from 9.1 overs.
With Dinesh Karthik coming at No. 3, the Mumbai Indians needed a makeable 96 from 65 deliveries, which Smith, with some brilliant hitting reduced to 41 from 36 balls, reaching his 50 in 38 deliveries with a big maximum.
Karthik, who only needed to give Smith the strike, unnecessarily threw his wicket away, gifting a catch to Ajinkya Rahane at point with Cooper (two for 33) striking again.
Rohit Sharma fell soon after - bowled by Siddharth Trivedi -- to raise hopes for the Royals. Smith failed to see his side through, holing out to Samson off Stuart Binny for a well-made 62 (44b, 6x4, 2x6) as the game headed for a tense finish with the Mumbai Indians needing 34 from 21 balls.
The Royals got another huge wicket in the 18th over, with James Faulkner dismissing the potential match-winner Kieron Pollard (11 in 6 balls), after the big West Indians chipped an innocuous delivery straight to Cooper.
The Mumbai Indians needed 23 from the last two overs, and the Royals were sloppy in the field again, with Brad Hodge dropping Ambati Rayudu off Cooper -- a couple of deliveries after he smashed a big six - and the ball after the drop also went for a boundary with the batting side cutting the target to eight from six balls.
A double off the first ball from Shane Watson was followed by Rayudu (17, 11b, 1x4, 1x6) being castled. Then Rishi Dhawan paddle-swept the ball away for four, before a single brought Harbhajan on strike, needing one from two balls.
There was to be no more drama, as the veteran fittingly finished things off with a boundary to give the Mumbai Indians the nerviest of wins.
Earlier, the Rajasthan Royals overcame the constant loss of wickets to post a total of note. Rahul Dravid and Ajinkya Rahane were again given the nod at the top and the two batsmen made a solid start, reaching 42 for no loss after the six powerplay overs.
Rahul Dravid, in particular, was looking good in the middle, playing a couple of glorious drives and flicks for boundaries. There was also time for some banter between the two sides, with Mitchell Johnson and Dravid having a couple of words as the intensity of the game picked up.
Right after the powerplay, however, the Royals got into a bit of trouble, losing three quick wickets in four overs.
Rahane (21, 18b, 3x4) was the first to walk back, with Harbhajan - who had a hand in five of the six Royals wickets -- bowling the opener around his legs. Harbhajan (three for 23) struck again in his next over, sending the dangerous Shane Watson packing, after inducing a top edge, which Rohit Sharma gobbled up.
Sanju Samson did not last too long, falling to Malinga with Harbhajan taking the catch, before the Mumbai Indians off-spinner got the big wicket of Dravid (43, 37b, 7x4), untroubled until then, in the 13th over.
Stuart Binny (27, 17b, 3x4, 1x6) played a couple of really good-looking shots through the off-side and looked like he would take the Royals to a big total, before Kieron Pollard struck off his only over in the innings - Harbhajan taking the catch again. Pollard (two for six) also picked up Kevon Cooper a couple of deliveries later as the Royals struggled for momentum on 110 for six after 16 overs.
Then came the innings-defining partnership with last-match hero Brad Hodge (19, 20b, 2x4) and Dishant Yagnik combining for 57 runs in just 4.3 overs, with Yagnik, surprisingly the aggressor scoring 31 of those runs in a mere 17 deliveries, studded by five boundaries.
The left-hander's quickfire innings was filled with a few fortuitous edges and a couple of brilliant strokes - one off Malinga in particular stood out with Yagnik positioning himself well behind the stumps -- a couple of feet at least -- to counter the Sri Lankan fast bowler's yorkers.
The final over from Malinga was a bit of a disaster really with the Mumbai Indians stalwart bowling a couple of the biggest wides you will ever see in cricket as the Royals took full toll, scoring 18 runs to take the total to 165 for six.