<
>

The slow poison of Rahul Chahar and Krunal Pandya

play
'We have the bowling attack to defend totals' - Rohit Sharma (7:31)

Mumbai captain talks about Mumbai's qualification, choosing the bowler for the ultimate over and more (7:31)

The Wankhede Stadium is a weird ground. It can be a batting beauty one day, seam around on another, and, occasionally, as though hexed, turn square.

But that'd be an aberration, like in the match between Mumbai Indians and Royal Challengers Bangalore earlier in the season, when a seemingly straightforward chase nearly turned on its head once Moeen Ali came on. Most days it offers bounce, but that's not a fair trade-off for the short boundaries, massive bats, and, particularly in the second innings, a dew-soaked ball.

So when Krunal Pandya and Rahul Chahar were introduced into the attack on Thursday night, there was enough that could have gone wrong. Except, it did not. You may point out - correctly - that it's their home ground, so these are factors they'd be well accustomed to. But consider the situation: Mumbai, having opted to bat, had scraped to 162; not a bad score but perhaps not a winning one. Then, the quicks had been bullied through the Powerplay and Sunrisers Hyderabad had raced to 57, and only required 7.42 per over. Since last season, spinners have conceded 7.87 runs an over at the Wankhede. That would have been more than enough for Sunrisers to get home. But they didn't.

A little slice of luck, or genius - whatever you prefer - that they were the beneficiaries of was the sixth over bowled by Man of the Match Jasprit Bumrah. Having already ended Wriddhiman Saha's cameo, he also got rid of Martin Guptill before Chahar came on. It meant there were two new batsman at the crease, Manish Pandey and Kane Williamson. And while Pandey made a blazing start, the wicket of Guptill meant he'd have to at least briefly rebuild.

The first ball from Chahar was a legbreak taken almost from the keeper's gloves and dabbed fine to slip's right for four by Pandey. After that, the old middle-overs squeeze was on. Chahar adjusted his line and length, going straighter and fuller next ball. Pandey pushed it back to the bowler. Another dot, then another dot, and after that a couple of singles. Despite the boundary off the first ball, Chahar had conceded only six. The required rate had crept up to 7.53. Still, it was Sunrisers' game.

By the time Krunal finished his first over, though, the match was beginning to turn Mumbai's way. It started with the first ball. While Pandey was batting fluently, Williamson, with only 54 runs in six matches this season, had started slowly; three off six. In a bid to keep things moving from his end as well, he gave away his intention of playing the fine sweep a bit early. Krunal held the ball back slightly, pitched it on a length. and angled it into middle stump, with Williamson having shuffled across too far. It missed the bat and struck him on the thigh, and while the umpire ruled in Williamson's favour, Krunal immediately asked Rohit Sharma to take a review. Three reds meant Williamson had to go. Five singles were taken off the next five balls and the required rate was now 7.75.

Out came Vijay Shankar. Even at that stage, with two seasoned Indian batsmen at the crease and two spinners in operation with a wet ball, you'd be tempted to back the batting side, particularly at this venue. But as Rohit later asserted, the two spinners he has are quality bowlers. According to him, the next few overs, plus the two before, was when the match turned.

"Those eight overs of the spinners in the middle were very, very crucial," Rohit said at the post-match press conference. "Sometimes it can get difficult for the spinners to bowl eight overs in tandem but those two spinners are quality, they understand the conditions really well. Vijay and Manish were batting and they have played enough cricket with them, so they kept varying the length and kept it real tight.

"Those eight overs were the turning point in my opinion because if they would have gotten away from that, probably things wouldn't have fallen into place. So I thought they did a terrific job in the middle, with a wet ball, it is not easy."

To put things in perspective, the required rate climbed from a manageable 7.75 to a much steeper 10.06 by the time Chahar and Krunal had finished their spells: none for 21 for Chahar and 2 for 22 for Krunal. The fact that they bowled out without a break was a testament to their control and the pressure they were able to exert, despite not running through the opposition. It was slow poison.

Only two boundaries were scored through this period; there were 11 dot balls, and runs trickled along in ones and the occasional two. Then, in his final over, having preyed upon the patience of both batsmen, Krunal induced a false stroke from Vijay, who holed out to long-on. For the first time during the chase, ESPNcricinfo's Forecaster had Mumbai as favourites, albeit marginally. The match ended in a tie and the brilliance of Bumrah won the day for Mumbai in the one-over eliminator, but Chahar and Krunal had set it up for him, reciprocating what he'd earlier done for them.