Harbhajan MILast year’s runners-up Kings XI Punjab scored their first victory of the new IPL season but contrary to early indications, the win didn’t come as easily as it first appeared. The visitors to India’s maximum city had to endure some seriously anxious moments as one man literally pulled the rug from under their feet. Mumbai Indians were down in the dumps in the 14th over of their 178-run victory chase. Kieron Pollard had presented David Miller with the dolly of a catch at long-off after scoring 20 runs off 21 balls. He was the sixth wicket to fall at 59 with Mumbai still requiring 119 runs for victory in 44 balls. That worked out close to 19 runs per over and every established batsman was sitting in the player’s dungeon with his head hung in near shame. Everyone watched Mumbai heading to their worst IPL defeat in their countless appearances over the past several years. But Pollard’s departure brought Harbhajan Singh out to join Jagadeesha Suchit. With too little serious cricket to keep him busy these days, Harbhajan was not really expected to bat like Brendon McCullum or Chris Gayle. But belying every possible expectation, Harbhajan got into his groove and took on the KXIP bowlers with vengeance. Before one could blink his eye, Harbhajan blasted 64 from just 24 balls and instilled hope in the hearts of every MI fan at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium. In a space of 37 balls, Harbhajan and Suchit added 100 runs to bring the stands came alive. Unfortunately, Mumbai Indians had suffered heavy losses earlier in their innings and therefore despite the Harbhajan bravado, they still fell short by 18 runs in the end. But the late crusade from the two later order batsmen made the defeat far more palatable than the unmitigated disaster that was clearly on cards half an hour ago.

Mumbai Indians skipper Rohit Sharma won the toss and wrongly thought that he could chase the target later. Kings Eleven openers began strongly and put on 60 in the 7th over. It was the vintage Viru that people saw as he played without a care in the world. Some of the shots really took people’s breath away. One of them was played off Pawan Suyal in the second over that flew over the covers. Viru has always been an eye player and copybook footwork doesn’t interest him. Even with leaden feet he can create havoc. He was equally harsh on Vinay Kumar and Lasith Malinga belting them both to successive fours. But he lasted only 19 balls, hit 6 fours, one six and could only make 36. Vijay on the other end kept going for a while. For MI, Harbhajan bowled like he did in his heydays and removed both openers. Mumbai also got rid of Glenn Maxwell early before the dangerous Australian could create imbalance. After the fall of three wickets KXIP lost some momentum until George Bailey found his old touch. The KXIP captain plundered 61off 32, hit 4 fours and 3 sixes and ensured that his team reached 177/5 in 20 overs.

Mumbai Indian’s chase of 178 began to falter almost at the start. Rohit Sharma, Aaron Finch and Aditya Tare lost their wickets by 6th over with score still below 20 runs. Sharma was declared out LBW to Sandeep Sharma, Tare was caught in the covers, when he tried to hoist Anureet Singh and Finch played across the line to be bowled by Mitchell Johnson. Mumbai’s woes were compounded in the eighth over, when Corey Anderson was stumped after scoring just 5 off 11 balls and the score slipped to 25 for 4. Rayudu left in 12th over and Pollard in the 14th.

It was 59/6 in 13.4 overs, when Harbhajan Singh walked in to join Suchit. The veteran began by picking up a single off the first ball he faced and kept the strike for the 15th over from Rishi Dhawan. He struck three fours, survived a caught and bowled chance and with Suchit also hitting a boundary, the two batsmen collected 19 runs. Mitchell Johnson’s next over went for 17 with Harbhajan hitting a six and Suchit contributing with a six and a four. The 17th from Anureet was blasted for 20 with Harbhajan clearing the ropes thrice in succession. Runs were flowing but MI couldn’t reach the target because of their wretched batting show early on. For 7th wicket, Harbhajan and Suchit plundered 100 runs from 37 balls and spoiled the bowling figures of Sandeep Sharma, Anureet and Johnson. Despite the murderous hitting, there was no way Mumbai could reach the target but even in the loss, Harbhajan and Suchit came up as heroes. When Harbhajan was caught near the ropes off Anureet’s penultimate ball of the match, the entire Wankhede rose to applaud him. The presence of the veteran through 24 balls had made Mumbai’s loss much less shameful.