IPL 2017, MI v KXIP: Wriddhiman Saha's promotion to the opening slot is SK Turning Point of the Match
Saha smashes a 55-ball 93 to help Kings XI register the highest total of this season.
Owing to Hashim Amla’s departure to South Africa, Kings XI Punjab suddenly found themselves without their in-form opening batsman. The prospect of a must-win game against Mumbai Indians at the vociferous Wankhede Stadium could have forced most teams to play it safe and employ a regular exponent at the top of the order. However, with the maverick Virender Sehwag as ‘Director of Cricket Operations’, this was an opportunity to pull a rabbit out of the hat.
Instead of using Shaun Marsh or Manan Vohra to partner the explosive Martin Guptill, the Kings XI promoted Wriddhiman Saha as the other opening batsman. The calculated gamble paid rich dividends as the 32-year-old produced his best performance of the 2017 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL).
Saha had come into this game on the back of some indifferent form. Playing in the middle-order in the previous matches, he could just manage 128 runs from 12 outings. With a place in the playoffs at stake, the compact right-hander tackled a menacing Mumbai bowling attack to help his team register the highest total in the season thus far.
Eventually, his high-octane 55-ball 93 paved the way for Kings XI to secure a riveting 7-run triumph and consequently procure the two vital points on offer which allowed them to stay in the hunt for qualification to the knockout stages. Here’s how the events transpired in the entertaining contest.
Saha in cruise control
Rohit Sharma won the toss on a flat surface and decided to rely on Mumbai’s strength in chasing. The situation was ripe for Guptill and Saha to enable the visitors to get off to a strong start. The New Zealand batsman had his fair share of luck when the experienced Harbhajan Singh dropped a difficult chance at first slip.
On the other hand, the gloveman showed intent right from the beginning of the innings. Not keen on moving his feet to a significant extent, he banked on his hand-eye coordination to manoeuvre the field and find the boundaries. Mitchell McClenaghan’s wayward lengths fetched him three fours in the second over. Even though Jasprit Bumrah seemed to trouble him, he held on resiliently.
Saha broke the shackles completely by taking a liking to Lasith Malinga’s uncontrolled variations. In particular, his ballet-style pull shot to the long leg fence was easy on the eye. Meanwhile, at the other end, Guptill perished to Karn Sharma’s stifling leg-spin. Glenn Maxwell walked into the middle and unleashed a flurry of sixes to render Mumbai to a state of helplessness.
With the wicket-keeper batsman playing the anchor role to perfection, Punjab’s skipper imposed himself on the opposition as well as on the packed house. When Bumrah finally castled him, the Australian dynamo had already caused irreparable damage.
Even as the new batsman Shaun Marsh took his time to get into the groove, Saha began to further Maxwell’s agenda by laying into Harbhajan and soon brought up his first half-century of the season. The veteran off-spinner had to endure a torrid time as his three overs came at the cost of 45 runs.
When the death overs loomed, the platform had been firmly set for a fitting finish. Marsh departed following a clever piece of bowling from McClenaghan. But, Kings XI had enough firepower to reach a daunting total of 230 for the loss of just three wickets. Remaining unbeaten on seven runs short of three figures, Saha had played a splendid hand in a high-pressure game for the Kings XI.
The catch that made a telling difference
However, Mumbai were not going to give up their chase without putting up a serious fight. Riding on a powerful opening partnership from Parthiv Patel and Lendl Simmons, the home team mounted an engrossing challenge in front of their buoyant fans.
Despite the flurry of wickets in the middle-overs tilting the balance in Punjab's favour, the match soon oscillated back towards Mumbai. The aggressive duo of Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya proceeded to enjoy the even pace of the surface. The equation came down to just 56 runs from the last four overs.
When it seemed like Maxwell’s men were going to let slip a massive opportunity, Saha once again rose to the occasion. Diving low to his preferred side, he plucked the ball almost inches from the turf and sent back the dangerous Pandya.
Mohit Sharma’s impeccable final over strangled Pollard into submission to hand a thrilling victory to Kings XI. But, the night had belonged to Saha who managed to repay the team management’s faith in his batting skills.