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Smith roars for Lions

Gujarat Lions guaranteed themselves a top-two finish on the IPL league table, and earned themselves two shots at a place in the final, after a 96-run partnership between Brendon McCullum and Suresh Raina set them up for a six-wicket win over Mumbai Indians. Lions ended the league stage on 18 points while Mumbai finished on 14.

To make the playoffs, Mumbai will need Kolkata Knight Riders and Delhi Daredevils – who also have 14 points each – to lose their matches on Sunday, and lose by big enough margins for their net run rates to dip below Mumbai’s -0.146.

Dwayne Smith

Dwayne Smith

Rohit Sharma noted, after Raina chose to bowl, that the Green Park pitch wasn’t as green as it had been on Thursday when Lions had restricted Knight Riders to 124. It wasn’t just less green. It was even-paced, with the ball coming nicely on to the bat, and Mumbai’s total of 172 proved well short of challenging as Lions, given a strong platform by Raina and McCullum, and a sure finish by Dwayne Smith – who swapped places in the batting order with Aaron Finch – cruised home with 13 balls remaining.

Mumbai got off to an excellent start with the bat, with Rohit enjoying the batting-friendly conditions to move to 30 off 16 balls, with four fours and two sixes, before pulling Dhawal Kulkarni straight to deep square leg in the fourth over. Nitish Rana walked in and pulled his first ball for four.

Dwayne Smith had picked up four wickets on Thursday, and Raina tossed him the ball at the start of the fifth over even though the conditions were rather different this time. Martin Guptill, invisible till then, glanced his second ball for four, and should have put away his third one as well. It was shortish, and offered plenty of swinging room for Guptill to flat-bat it anywhere he pleased; he ended up dragging it to mid-on.

With Smith’s deceptively quick bouncer consuming Krunal Pandya in the same over, Mumbai were forced into rebuilding mode. Rana and Jos Buttler only scored 27 runs in the first 30 balls of their partnership, and Mumbai were 72 for 3 at the halfway stage.

Fifteen came off the 11th, as Rana slogged Ravindra Jadeja over long-on and Buttler chopped him to the backward point boundary. Rana began the 12th over with a four and a six off Smith, and Mumbai were back on track.

Rana favoured the pull and the slog-sweep, and those strengths, and his left-handedness, was probably the reason Raina only used Jadeja for one over. Rana hit Shadab Jakati, Lions’ other left-arm spinner, for a six in the 13th over, and three fours – two in the midwicket region – in the 15th.

Fourteen came off that over, and with Rana past the half-century mark, Mumbai were nicely placed going into the last five. They had lost Buttler to a reflex caught-and-bowled from Dwayne Bravo, but at the crease was Kieron Pollard, in the kind of situation he enjoys batting in.

Rana clubbed another leg-side six off Dhawal Kulkarni in the 16th, going deep in his crease to shorten the length of the ball, but he miscued to deep square leg when he tried the same shot off Bravo in the next over. Pollard cleared long-on with a top-edge in the 18th before swatting a full-toss from Kulkarni straight down long-off’s throat. Suddenly, Mumbai had two new batsmen at the crease with only two overs to go.

They would only get 12 from the last two, as Bravo and Praveen Kumar, both going around the wicket, either speared it too full for Hardik Pandya and Harbhajan Singh to get under, or dangled it too slow to line up perfectly. Both batsmen fell in the final over as Mumbai finished on 172 for 8. They had only scored 27 in the last four overs.

Finch fell in the first over of Lions’ innings, victim to his tendency to get stuck on the crease early in his innings, but McCullum and Raina quickly got the chase into gear. Bowlers tend to attack Raina’s rib cage early on, but Mitchell McClenaghan overused the short ball in the third over, and the batsman pulled, slapped and uppercut three fours, having already picked up a boundary when Hardik let a drive slip between his legs at cover point.

McCullum hit Krunal for two fours and a pulled six in the fifth over, and Lions were already past 50. With the field still in, Raina’s chancy slogs off Jasprit Bumrah’s slower balls proved quite productive in the sixth over – one went to the third man boundary off the top edge, and the other, not quite middled, sailed over deep midwicket. Rattled, Bumrah fed McCullum on his pads and then gave him width; 19 came off that over and Lions’ required rate dipped to 7.35.

With the spinners, Krunal and Harbhajan Singh, routinely dropping short, Lions were racing home. This being the IPL, there was a small wobble, as McCullum, Dinesh Karthik and Raina fell in the space of 19 balls to leave 51 needed from 46. Smith, though, conveyed cold authority right from the time he flat-batted the second ball he faced back over Bumrah’s head, and he steered Lions home with a calm, unbeaten 37 off 23.

(ESPN Sports)

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