If ever anyone needed a reminder that Mumbai Indians can win from anywhere, this was it. Nowhere in the game when openers Shubman Gill and Nitish Rana took them to the cleaners and nearly wiped out half the target inside 10 overs, they banked on their experience to orchestrate a comeback.
The turnaround was sparked by 21-year-old Rahul Chahar, who started poorly, being hit for 10 by Gill off his first three deliveries. One of those was a monstrous hit against the turn to clear long-on. The sheer audacity of the stroke may have tempted a few others into going flatter, but Chahar bowls to Hardik Pandya and Kieron Pollard in the nets. So there's no fear. He tossed it up again, slightly away from Gill's hitting arc. He slices to long-off, and a dangerous opening stand is broken.
"I've bowled to the Indian team, the big players in the nets, and when you do that, the pressure is less in a match scenario," Chahar said of his fearlessness. "This is my fourth year with Mumbai Indians, and I bowl to some of the world's best hitters, so I don't feel pressure in the match." Surely that he's bowled much of his overs at Wankhede, where no total is safe enough, may have played a part, too.
In his second over, Tripathi tried to be inventive and top-edged a paddle second ball. But Chahar stuck to a similar line and got one to rip from outside leg. Tripathi was opened up even as the ball stopped on him to take the edge. It was the kind of persistence you see from a bowler supremely confident in his execution, because he isn't afraid to fail.
"Sometimes, Rohit Sharma has had more confidence in me than I've had on myself," Chahar said. "I enjoyed Rahul Tripathi's wicket, particularly. I got him exactly the way a legspinner would want to get a batsman. All Rohit told me was "you're bowling well, sometimes even I'm not able to understand what [variations] you're bowling [in the nets]. So just focus on turning the ball consistently.' I knew if there was someone who could make a difference here, it was the spinners."
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Up until his first two overs, the 9th and 11th, it was a question of Mumbai trying to salvage something from the game. Kolkata Knight Riders were still favorites, but they kept going for the big hits, in trying to perhaps ensure they had fewer runs to get off Jasprit Bumrah at the end. This played into Mumbai's hands. Rohit was now being dictated by instincts and game awareness. Not match-ups, because Chahar was handed a third over, the 13th of the innings, despite Knight Riders having two left-handers in Nitish Rana and Eoin Morgan at the crease.
Now, Chahar isn't a big turner of the ball. Much of the bite he has is because of his subtle variations in length and pace. With mid-on in, he enticed Morgan to take him on. In hanging it up nicely on a length outside off, he has Morgan reaching out. The drift away ensured the batsman dragged it to deep midwicket. The third scalp was nipped out, yet Knight Riders still seemed in control, with the equation reading 49 off 42 with seven wickets in hand.
One quiet Rohit over later - yes, he bowled, and sent down a few shivers when he twisted his ankle, only to continue after some treatment - Chahar nearly bowled Shakib through the gate. He attempted to drive against the turn as the ball ripped back in to beat everyone. One ball later, he'd have Rana stumped with a flipper that skidded across to beat the edge. He'd had an answer for everything the batsmen had thrown at him. He'd given Mumbai an opening.
To give the entire credit to Chahar alone wouldn't be doing justice to the other bowlers. Krunal Pandya's four overs went for just 13; two of those were against Andre Russell, one of the cleanest strikers ever, and Dinesh Karthik, who has made a career out of playing on these pitches day-in and day-out, with Knight Riders needing 31 off 30.
Krunal would first take out Shakib, who misjudged the length, because it was bowled from well behind the crease. Then in his final over, Rohit even brought himself at slip and also had a silly point for Russell, with Knight Riders needing 21 off 17. There was cover too, so Russell's only option is to hit over the top. And in trying to jab at one, he popped a return catch that was put down. But because he couldn't pick the gap, Russell attempted a big mow against the turn. Bumrah circled under it for an eternity but grassed it. But he immediately redeemed himself with the ball. Knight Riders now needed 19 off 12.
Bumrah showed how no situation is too tense. Not even when his match-up against Karthik read: 50 runs, 27 balls, zero wickets. What did he do? He trusted his hard lengths, set Russell up by cramping him and then went full to nearly take him out, before mixing them around to deceive Karthik with subtle changes in pace. Just like that, he'd turned 19 off 12 to 15 off six.
Trent Boult's seen such an equation heartbreakingly slip away. He didn't need reminders that he needed to go for the yorkers. But the prospect of missing his length by even a small margin against Russell perhaps forced him to go for a slower variation. Russell, who has survived only on Mumbai's generosity up until then, popped a simple return catch. Then he went full and straight to flatten Pat Cummins.
It was game, set and match, with Karthik left high and dry. The Knight Riders had lost a game they had no business losing, and their superstar owner Shah Rukh Khan demanded an apology to the fans almost immediately. Russell was happy to give one at the post-match press conference, too.