(The Times Of India)
Mumbai Indians inched closer to the second successive title clash as they knocked Kolkata Knight Riders out of the Indian Premier League by handing them a four-wicket defeat in a thrilling Eliminator match on Wednesday.
Mumbai will now lock horns with Royal Challengers Bangalore on Friday in the qualifier-II, the winner of which will take on defending champions Chennai Super Kings in the summit clash on Saturday.
The victory was set up by the Mumbai bowlers, who exploited the slow Wankhede track well and put their side in the driver’s seat by restricting Kolkata to 147 for seven.
Munaf Patel (3/27) was the most successful bowler while Lasith Malinga was, as usual, the most economical, giving away just 19 runs apart from taking one wicket.
The hosts then overcame a few hiccups to achieve the target with four balls to spare as they lost some quick wickets after openers Sachin Tendulkar (36) and Aiden Blizzard (51) had scored a quick 81 runs.
By virtue of this win, Mumbai have also qualified for the next Champions League.
Rohit Sharma (0), Ambati Rayudu (12) and Kieron Pollard (3) fell early but James Franklin, who had scripted Mumbai win in the last outing against the same opponent, yet again played sensibly to ensure that KKR do not upset them.
Left-handed Franklin scored an unbeaten 29 off 25. Had it not been the heroics of Dutch batsman Ryan ten Doeschate, who scored an unbeaten 70 under pressure, Kolkata would not managed to reach close to 150-run mark.
Kolkata were reeling at 20 for four after six overs but a dogged Doeschate resurrected their innings with his fighting knock which came off 49 balls and had nine boundaries, including three sixes.
The Mumbai were on course to record an easy victory when Tendulkar and Blizzard were batting but Rohit Sharma’s inexplicable run out and Kallis’ two quick wickets did raise the heartbeats of the home fans.
Kallis first removed Tendulkar and then had Rayudu caught behind off a debatable decision by umpire Asad Rauf.
Shakib then scalped Pollard and T Suman in a hurry to make it a contest but eventually Kolkata had to be content with a fourth place finish in this edition.
Kolkata, though, did fight bravely and pushed Mumbai to limits by stretching the match to the last over.
Mumbai needed seven runs in the final over, bowled by Shakib, but Harbhajan lofted the spinner for a six in the second ball to trigger wild celebrations at the stadium.
Earlier, Doeschate combined with Yusuf Pathan (26) to raise a 60-run stand for the fifth wicket to resurrect their innings, which was in tatters by losing quick four wickets.
Doeschate then found an able ally in Shakib al-Hasan (26) as the duo put on 41 runs for the sixth wicket to further improve the health of their innings.
The Knight Riders had lost openers Jacques Kallis (7) and captain Gautam Gambhir (4) in the second and third over respectively to slump to 13 for two.
Kallis hit a glorious cover driven four off Patel but perished in the next ball as his uppish drive was taken well by rival captain Sachin Tendulkar.
Gambhir, who was playing in the match despite reports that he might skip it due to a shoulder injury, started confidently with a step-out loft for four but was bowled by Harbhajan.
More trouble was in store for Kolkata as Shreevats Goswami was caught behind in the second over of Patel and soon they were 20 for 4 with the departure of leading run-getter Manoj Tiwary (4) in the sixth over.
Tiwary was trapped leg before with an angled-in delivery by Dhawal Kulkarni to put Mumbai right on top.
Aggressive batsman Yusuf Pathan played carefully in the company of Doeschate, who released some pressure with a six off James Franklin, the first of the innings, in the eighth over.
Kieron Pollard was hit for 15 runs in the 11th over with Doeschate hoisting him for his second six over long on and a four before Pathan smashed the West Indian over his head for his first four.
Pathan, having decided to go on an all-out attack, hammered Harbhajan straight and top edged Munaf for fours in successive overs to up the tempo.
But just when he started to look dangerous, Pathan got rid off him once again through a great running catch by Pollard, who ran 25 yards to his left at long on and completed the catch in over number 13.
Doeschate escaped a leg side stumping chance off Harbhajan in the 14th over and then swung the next ball to the square leg fence.
New batsman Shakib Al Hasan took the attack to the rivals soon after arriving to the crease by crashing three successive fours off Kulkarni to bring the visitors 100 in the 15th over.
Shakib struck four fours in his 16-ball cameo before dragging the ball from Lasith Malinga back on to his stumps.
Towards the end Doeschate added vital runs and carted Pollard for a six and a four in the final over to give the innings the final flourish.