Though Mumbai Indians were the defending champions, they were required to qualify because their poor performance in IPL 2014 did not allow them an automatic berth. Their entry to the qualifying rounds, too could not have come if they had not beaten Rajasthan Royals in a thunderous game, where MI made 190 in 87 balls with Aditya Tare climaxing the match with a magnificent last-ball six. Two spots were available from amongst four qualifiers, before the start of the main tournament on Wednesday, September 17 and all qualifying fixtures were played at Shaheed Vir Narayan Singh International Stadium at Chhattisgarh’s capital city of Raipur in India. Besides Mumbai Indians, the other three teams were; New-Zealand’s Northern Knights, Sri Lanka’s Southern Express and Pakistan’s Lahore Lions. The qualifying scenario became interesting before the start of the last match on September 16, between Northern Knights and Mumbai Indians. This match held the key since Mumbai’s victory would have meant two games won by each team with decision resting on net run-rate. But that didn’t happen as poor batting display by MI sent them crashing out of the tournament and Northern Knights and Lahore Lions qualified in the end.
Mumbai Indians were handicapped by the absence of Rohit Sharma but they had others, who could have seen them through. Northern Knights won the toss and asked MI to bat first. During the IPL 2014 season, it was MI’s batting that let him down. It wasn’t any different at Raipur yesterday as the batsmen came under pressure from Northern Knights bowlers. By the 11th over, Mumbai Indians had lost 5 wickets without touching 50. Nagging length from Trent Boult and Tim Southee kept MI under check early on before Michael Hussey lost his patience as he stepped out to lift Southee out of the ground only to hole out to Scott Kuggeleijn at mid-on. It was a bad omen for Mumbai Indians, who were desperate for a strong start. With Hussey’s departure, things began to worsen for MI. Though first-change bowler Scott Kuggeleijn conceded 15 runs in the fifth over, the other Scott, Styris bowled intelligently and kept MI under a tight leash. Caught under a suffocating spell of bowling, MI couldn’t score and their wickets started to fall at regular intervals. Styris removed Jalaj Saxena, Lendl Simmons and Aditya Tare, all of whom literally sacrificed their wickets, trying to attempt wild shots. Jalaj Saxena’s low uppish drive was snapped up at short cover, Simmons’ bats swung but the ball found only his stumps and Aditya Tare’s attempted late-cut produced a catch for the wicketkeeper. When Boult came back for his second spell, he bowled a bouncer to Rayudu, to which the batsman tried an awkward shot above the head the wicketkeeper and was caught behind. With Mumbai Indians tottering at 46 for 5 with more than half the innings gone, the writing was clearly on the wall. The Northern Knights’ bowlers were ably supported by some brilliant fielding that made scoring difficult. MI batsmen coming lower down the order did their best to stage a recovery. Kieron Pollard and Harbhajan Singh began the rearguard action but after scoring 10 runs off 14 balls, Harbhajan heaved on an offside delivery from Kuggeleijn and Devcich took a smartly-judged skier at long-off. With a little more power, the ball would have gone away. Skipper Pollard lasted until the score reached 89 but he too, fell to a good catch, when an uppish shot from him found Harris at deep square leg. Pollard was MI’s top scorer with 31 off 24 balls. Though Shreyas Gopal and Lasith Malinga also came up with little cameos, Mumbai Indians’ 132 in 20 overs was a below-par performance.
When Northern Knights came on to chase a meager target of 133, they didn’t face any difficulty from MI’s bowlers. The openers Kane Williamson and Anton Devcich dealt with Lasith Malinga with an unhurried poise taking 13 from the Lankan’s first 2 overs. Malinga opened the bowling and came back again to bowl the fourth over. The size of the target was so small that Williamson and Devcich didn’t have to attempt anything adventurous. The first wicket fell at 83 and 10.2 overs remained for the remaining 50 runs. Though MI snapped three more wickets, Northern Knights still had 4 overs for making 18 runs, when the Daniel Flynn fell as the fourth wicket. In the end, the New-Zealand side reached the target with the utmost ease with 16 balls still remaining.
The Group phase of the CLT20 begins on September 17, when Chennai Super Kings take on Kolkata Knight Riders at Hyderabad in the first game. The group phase will conclude with the 20th and last game between Barbados Tridents v Northern Districts. The two semifinal matches will be played on October 2 at Hyderabad and the final on October 4, 2015 at Bangalore.