Over the years, pacer Ishant Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane and spinner Harbhajan Singh have been regulars in the India side. Their efforts have given India quite a few reasons to celebrate. In the shortest format though they haven’t been among the preferred players.
In the recently-concluded World Twenty20, Harbhajan did not play a game, essentially chosen as a replacement in case of an injury. Ishant, who spent last year grappling with injuries before returning strong for the Test series in Sri Lanka, was ignored for the World T20. Rahane was on the periphery through the last few months and finally got a chance to play in the semifinal when a few tactical changes were made and he replaced Shikhar Dhawan. His performance in that match however, hardly set the stage on fire.
As the Indian Premier League (IPL) kicked off on Saturday, it was expected that the big performers of the World T20 would lead the way. In the opening tie though. it was the less-fancied trio that produced eye-catching performances.
Ishant’s fiery opening spell for the newly-formed Rising Pune Supergiants laid the foundation for his team’s dominant performance at the Wankhede. He bowled at good pace and pitched consistently up to keep the batsmen guessing. Champions Mumbai Indians never recovered from the early setbacks.
An unbeaten knock of 66 by his teammate Rahane sealed an easy victory. The defending champions slumped to a nine-wicket defeat despite Harbhajan’s late flourish with the bat helping the hosts to post a modest total.
After winning the toss, Mumbai Indians captain Rohit Sharma chose to bat first. Pune skipper MS Dhoni, who had to wade through a river of trouble after being forced to bowl second at the same venue just a days ago, welcomed the chance to take the field early on. Unlike in the World T20 semifinal loss against eventual winners West Indies, there wasn’t much dew on the Wankhede pitch thanks to strong breeze.
Ishant was his primary weapon, and the 27-year-old did not disappoint, sending back the dangerous opening pair of Rohit and Lendl Simmons, who was the chief architect of India’s defeat at the same venue in the semifinal of the World T20. Rohit was beaten for pace to be trapped leg before and Simmons was then bowled.
The wicket was tilted in favour of the bowlers and Ishant was up to the task. His teammates soon joined the party with Mitchell Marsh (2/21) and IPL debutant leg spinner Murugan Ashwin (1/16) proving an ideal foil.
With the ball darting and gripping, Mumbai batsmen struggled to keep up. At one staged, they were reeling at 68 for the loss of seven wickets.
It was then that Harbhjan came in and pushed for a late charge. He was particularly harsh on Ishant, who returned to bowl the last over. Harbhajan smashed Ishant for 17 runs to take his score to 45 and lead Mumbai to a competitive total of 121 for eight.
Rahane (66 no -- 42 balls, 7x4, 3x6) and Faf du Plessis made a steady start, raising 78 runs in 9.4 overs to kill the match as a contest. Kevin Pietersen, batting at No 3, was unbeaten on 21. The England discard has been in good form across T20 leagues, in the Big Bash and the newly-launched Pakistan T20 league.