Mumbai Indians couldn’t afford to lose this game. Another slip and the defending champions would have been out of this year’s Indian Premier League. They came into the win-or-bust contest against Rajasthan Royals with 10 points and a net run rate of -0.45. After an eight-wicket win with 70 balls to spare, they are now on 12 points with a net run rate of -0.04. The message was clear – never write them off, ever. With MI now breathing down Kolkata Knight Riders’ neck, the top-four scrap between the two teams is going down to the wire.
Nathan Coulter-Nile has produced the best performance of his seven-season Indian Premier League career to help champions Mumbai Indians keep their hopes of a ‘threepeat’ alive. Coulter-Nile, a stalwart of Australia’s one-day and T20 internationals, won the player of the match award as the pacey allrounder’s excellent 4-14 did most to wreck Rajasthan Royals’ innings in Sharjah on Tuesday. Along with Jasprit Bumrah’s 2-14 and Jimmy Neesham’s 3-12, Coulter-Nile, who was playing in only his fourth match in the IPL this season, bowled with excellent variety to help reduce the Royals to 9-90 off their 20 overs.
In reply, Mumbai, champions for the last two years, blitzed their way to an eight-wicket victory in just 8.2 overs, with captain Rohit Sharma’s lusty opening 22 and Ishan Kishan’s unbeaten 50 off 25 balls propelling them to the quickest win, in terms of balls faced, by any team this season. The Indians needed a quick win to keep their hopes alive of earning fourth place in the race for the playoffs. With the boost that the speedy win gave to their net run rate, they’re now fifth in the table – with one match left against Sunrisers Hyderabad – and are on the same number of points as fourth-placed Kolkata.
But the Knight Riders still have a superior net run rate and will be hot favorites to advance if they beat Rajasthan in their last match. Coulter-Nile, who turns 34 next week, came on a second change and quickly made an impact, getting opener Yashasvi Jaiswal caught behind in the powerplay, before also then bowling Glenn Phillips off a fuller ball. He returned later to trap David Miller lbw and clean bowl Chetan Sakariya for the ninth wicket.
MI’s team selection was bold. A seam-bowling allrounder, Neesham, came in for a spin-allrounder, Krunal Pandya. In such a big game, the seasoned Quinton de Kock was dropped for Ishan Kishan. Batting has troubled the five-time champions this term. The safer option would have been to include an extra batsman. The MI team management added an extra pacer instead. The adaptability of their quicks was one of the highlights of the game. When the ball didn’t move in the air, Coulter-Nile and company rolled their fingers over the seam. They quickly figured out the right length and optimum speed. It was a night when MI was spotless in their planning and execution.
Rohit ensured the chase would be an even simpler job, as he smashed two quick sixes, the second of which made him the first Indian batsman to hit 400 maximums in the IPL. Kishan then cracked five boundaries and three sixes, including the winning blow that took Mumbai to 2-94 and brought up his half-century. He also became the youngest Mumbai batter to reach 1,000 IPL runs. “It was challenging with the bat. Everyone has got their own plans and way of going about things. But Powerplay is important. Coulter-Nile is outstanding. It wasn’t swinging tonight, but we saw how he has a Plan B with his cutters,” Neesham told the host broadcasters during the innings break.