Hardik rediscovers the touch in the victory of the Indians of Mumbai

For the umpteenth time in their history, the Indians of Mumbai have snatched a game from the clutches of defeat, just as the Punjab Kings have snatched defeat on the verge of victory. In the end, Mumbai were more desperate for the win – one that kept them in the playoff hunt.

The Flaming Finisher

The Mumbai Indians had just four overs left to throw 40 points on a soft surface to beat the Punjab Kings and keep their play-off hopes afloat. Hardik Pandya, until then, looked hardworking and drab, his punches lacking punch and his feet rebelling against the designs of his mind. But, as the well-worn cliché says, it only takes a shot or a bullet to reclaim lost touch or ragged morale.

Hardik had to wait for the 18th ball he faced. The ball after being struck by Mohammed Shami, it backed up and struck a sledgehammer through the midwicket. A blow so powerful that Shami looked sheepish. Touching rekindled, Hardik threw the next ball, all the way down his hand and whirring wrists, beyond the city walls. A short so majestic that Shami looked stunned. From there, it was obvious that no matter how hard the Punjab tried to force a victory, even if they threw everything they had in Mumbai, stopping Hardik or Mumbai was impossible.

Eventually, and irresistibly, Mumbai hit the target with a pass in the bank, with Hardik providing the finishing touch with 16 points on Shami’s last pass. Shortly after Shami hit him on the body, he had worriedly asked if he was okay, but in the end, Hardik would have to ask his Indian colleague if his assault had left him in tatters. This is the destruction Hardik could cause – at one point he was 12 out of 16, he ended up with 40 out of 30.

Not to mention Kieron Pollard, whose six-and-four in the 18th over Arshdeep Singh were essential in the context of the game, as well as his game-changing bowling cameo.

Clever Pollard

Pollard the melon is antithetical to Pollard the drummer. Pollard the drummer is all smoldering violence. Biff, blast, baton, he does any bullet in his hitting arc, stretching for extra cover in the middle of the wicket. A T20 strike rate of 154 bears witness to this. Pollard, the melon, is different, however. Grinding, grafting, grating it does so to have its wickets. That it took 500 T20 games to complete 300 wickets attests to this.

The West Indian has been a reluctant bowler of late – he had only played 55 balls this IPL season before Tuesday’s game. Maybe at 38, he needs to save his shoulders for hacks and lifts. But Abu Dhabi’s slow, low wicket was irresistible – the kind of wicket on which its cutters and floats could be rewarding. This indeed turned out to be the case.

Right after Powerplay, Pollard stormed in. These days, his momentum is a walk – he could walk his momentum and still produce that much pace. But the precision, sharpness and intelligence remain. On two occasions, he illustrated the amalgamation of these discreet virtues which had played out for most of his triple century of wickets.

He knew his Caribbean compatriot Chris Gayle inside out. What he likes and what he doesn’t like. Gayle loves the rhythm. He likes the width. Pollard gave him neither. He pulled one into his body – pulling a good length away from it in the middle of the stump. Gayle, prematurely, split open, pulled out his front leg, seeking to deploy a short-arm pull over at length. But Pollard had lost a few meters of his pace on this balloon (from 120 km / h late to 115 km / h) so the ball arrived more slowly at Gayle. The muddled seam gripped the surface and came to rest on him a bit. Three bullets later, Pollard delivered the fatal blow, the nastiest one cutting everything for the Kings, KL Rahul’s wicket. He, like Pollard, misinterpreted that the bullet was there to be shot, but it was again slower with a scrambled seam. Rahul was wrong. It’s the funny thing about the shots fired – you can’t be late or early.

Pollard didn’t knock another down. But the two blows, more or less, blocked the designs of the Punjab. They didn’t quite have the resources to recover and display a serious challenge. It was the wicket brand where batsmen had to invent and improvise, disrupting the hair-raising lengths and lines of slower bowlers. The Punjab Kings didn’t have the breed of drummers capable of unleashing a pyrotechnic sandstorm – they had either the classics or the hits. It was the kind of pitch designed for Pollard’s cameo with the ball. And for Pandya to unleash chaos.