Mumbai Indians' reluctance to give Kieron Pollard an opportunity to express himself higher up the batting order has been hard to fathom. But when the top order collapsed before the tenth over in Mumbai's Indian Premier League 6 clash against Chennai Super Kings on Saturday (April 6), Pollard had the opportunity to showcase his prowess, not by choice but by chance. And he didn't disappoint.
Pollard not only proved to be a fine finisher but also someone capable of nurdling the ball and playing sensibly in the middle overs before the final onslaught. His 38-ball 57 helped Mumbai post a competitive 148 for 6 in 20 overs, nine runs too many for Chennai in the end.
The batting effort aside, it was his magnificence on the field that also played a big role in helping Mumbai clinch a thriller.
With 12 needed off the last over, Mahendra Singh Dhoni heaved a Munaf Patel delivery that had most eyeballs glued beyond the ropes at deep midwicket, till Pollard flew like a bird to pull off a stunner just a few yards inside the ropes, despite overbalancing, to seal the game.
Mumbai nearly came under Dhoni's wheels towards the end despite Chennai being well behind in the game for at least 37 of the 40 overs. The loss of wickets at one end notwithstanding, Dhoni calculated his onslaught to near-perfection. But his dismissal in the last over after he made a 26-ball 51 proved to be the game-changer.
But it was Pollard's burst with the bat that appeared to have galvanised Mumbai, who came out all guns blazing after having lost their first match of the competition.
Chennai's reply was thwarted right at the outset when Patel dismissed Murali Vijay (5) in the second over. Michael Hussey, who played a couple of sparkling strokes, had slices of luck when he was dropped in two consecutive overs off Mitchell Johnson. However, Johnson didn't let that deflate him as he then set up Suresh Raina (10) with the short-ball trap.
When luck finally ran out for Hussey, who was out bowled trying to heave Harbhajan Singh over cow corner, Chennai were in trouble at 42 for 3 in the eighth over.
That was when Ricky Ponting introduced Pragyan Ojha into the attack in an effort to stifle the flow of runs, a move which paid off when Ojha dismissed Dwayne Bravo (10) and S Badrinath (16) in consecutive overs.
Dhoni tried to launch a final push, smashing five fours and three sixes in his knock, which left Mumbai shell-shocked for a brief while at the end.
Mumbai's recovery with the bat was also courtesy Harbhajan, who made an unbeaten run-a-ball 21 in the company of Pollard. The duo shared an unbeaten 65 for the seventh wicket after Mumbai were tottering at 83 for 6 in the 12th over after opting to bat. Dinesh Karthik, coming off a 37-ball 60 against Royal Challengers Bangalore, looked in fine nick before being dismissed for 37.
Sachin Tendulkar made a first-ball duck, and a crowd used to fawning over him wasted no time in waving their yellow flags. A few others were left shaking their heads in disappointment. In the end, the frowns summed up the mood in the Chennai camp as they opened their campaign with a demoralising loss.