Mumbai falters at the threshold

Matthew Hayden with the Man of the Match trophy.-M. VEDHAN

Abhishek Nayar’s rough-hewn attack kept Mumbai Indians in the game until he ran the single that exposed Ashish Nehra in the final over, writes S. Ram Mahesh.

To its credit Match Eight of the Indian Premier League — the first in Chennai — appeared not to overstay its welcome. To one fan, a self-proclaimed purist that had turned up to see what the fuss was about, the encounter was a lot of hot air — better served, she sullenly noted, if it were used to sustain the flaccid, dandified lion float at the entrance of the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium.

But this commendable lady seemed the exception. About 35,000 others welcomed rapturously the game’s shortest version (and no, six-a-side doesn’t count; not yet at any rate). They cheered the hitting of Matthew Hayden and Suresh Raina, the labours of drummer Sivamani in keeping a do-rag on his head, the muscly spell of Manpreet Goni, even the late assault of the enemy left-hander, Abhishek Nayar. Mumbai’s male cheerleaders were seen less favourably however. One official couldn’t explain the puzzling phenomenon, but we were assured that, pom-poms aside, Twenty20 had “definitively” arrived in the city.

The toss was undertaken solemnly, and soon Ashish Nehra was attempting to set Parthiv Patel up for the away-swinger. It wasn’t elaborate — just one held cross-seam so it kept its angle into the left-hander — but it worked. Soon Michael Hussey charged Dhaval Kulkarni without success. Hayden and Raina were then brought together. They put on 104 in a touch over 10 overs.

Both left-handers advanced down the track off the wrong foot — back leg leading front — as they countered the fast-medium bowlers’ back-of-a-length defence. Hayden further messed the bowlers up by using the paddle- and reverse-sweep to miss short fine-leg and short third-man. So it wasn’t all senseless slogging, though it would follow.

“He played the better of the two innings,” said Hayden who made a 46-ball 81 to Raina’s 37-ball 53. “He definitely hit the ball cleaner and sweeter than I did. His knock was perfect.”

The big man’s affection for his younger partner wasn’t always evident during their stand, however, with Hayden’s targeting of the straight boundaries imperilling Raina.

Captain M. S. Dhoni batted as he can, and the Super Kings ran up 208 in its 20 overs. Harbhajan Singh’s captaincy was shrewdness itself: he ensured he bowled no more than two overs in a format that is brutal to his kind. Might his fired-in yorkers have curtailed the batsmen? Who knows, but why die trying when you can direct lesser lights to do your bidding?

Goni’s control and lift in his first three overs — for seven runs and a wicket — appeared to stitch the match up, but Nayar’s rough-hewn attack kept Mumbai in the game. Harbhajan helped Nayar raise hell, slapping 28 in 13 balls before Muttiah Muralitharan had him caught by the nerveless S. Badrinath. Nayar’s wide-based stance is reminiscent of Lance Klusener (playing for the Kolkata Tigers in the Indian Cricket League — keep up, will you?), and the single he took, exposing Nehra in the final over, ensured he too would be remembered for what could have been. Joginder Sharma, entrusted by Dhoni with the last over, survived again, and the locals were murmuring appreciatively as they spent the best part of an hour exiting the stadium.

THE SCORES

Chennai Super Kings v Mumbai Indians, M. A. Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai,

April 23, 2008. Result: