Chennai: In cricket, captains are known by their moves. And it was Harbhajan Singhs masterstroke on Saturday which earned Mumbai Indians their maiden entry into the final of the Champions League T20.
They will play Royal Challengers Bangalore in the final on Sunday. Defending a modest total of 160, Harbhajan marshalled his resources to perfection to steal a 10-run victory against the impressive Somerset, in the second semi-final.
The English team had done well till the 18th over as they were comfortably placed at 139 for three. With 22 more required off 12 balls for a place in final, Somerset knew that they were in with a bright chance.
It was at this juncture that Harbhajan, the captain, made the most inspiring move of the tournament. When common sense would have told that either Harbhajan himself or Kieron Pollard should shoulder the responsibility of the crucial 19th over, the Mumbai Indians captain entrusted James Franklin with the duty.
And what a over it turned out to be for the Mumbai side. Franklin absorbed all the pressure and bowled a disciplined spell, giving away just seven runs and picking up two crucial wickets — of the dangerous Craig Kieswetter (62) and Jos Butler (19). That setback hit Somerset hard and they were left with a difficult task of scoring 15 runs for victory in the final over. Harbhajan, expectedly, employed the fiery Lasith Malinga for the 20th over and the Sri Lankan didnt disappoint his captain, giving away just four runs and taking two wickets. Somerset could manage 150 for seven in their quota of overs.
Also, the presence of Sachin Tendulkar, who had specially flown in to Chennai for the match, must have inspired Harbhajan and Co. to go that extra yard. And Sachin was a happy man at the end of the match.
Earlier, the Mumbai Indians managed to put up 160 for five in their 20 overs. Aiden Blizzard top-scored with 54 while Kieron Pollard, Suryakumar Yadav and Rajagopal Satish all chipped in with handy contributions on a difficult Chepauk pitch.
Speaking at the post-match presentation ceremony, Harbhajan said he gave Franklin the ball in the 19th over because he was the man who was bowling a better length on the Chepauk track.
The following are excerpts
Harbhajan Singh: After I won the toss, I knew that it was definitely a bat-first wicket… We have seen that the games in Chennai, so far, have been low scoring affairs… But definitely this was a better wicket than the earlier ones.
I think we batted quite well, just that we lost the momentum in the middle… But then R. Satish and the new guy Surya (Yadav), batted very well and took us to a total which we could defend. Then the way we came out with our bowling, I think we were right at the top. Malinga and Franklin bowled fantastically.
We knew that in the Twenty20 format, it just a matter of one or two wickets to turn a game. I think, Keiswetter and (James) Hildreth, were going good… At that point of time, we needed one wicket and I got Hildreth… We kept the next few overs tight. The most important over for us today was the 19th over and Franklin bowled his heart out…
That won the match for us. With Malinga bowling the last over, you will have to do exceedingly well to hit him for 15 runs.
I gave the ball to Franklin in the penultimate over because he was the only one bowling the right sort of lengths on this wicket. He adjusted his pace well… It was a right choice. Though I still had another over left, but the wicket, by then, was playing pretty easy and the batsmen were set too… Moreover, the boundaries were not that big. So we thought that Franklin would be the right man for the job and it paid off. Im very happy that we got the result which we were looking for… We are looking forward to the final.
Alfonso Tomas: It has been a fantastic effort… We pushed hard, but got beaten by a top team… Things like this happens… Obviously gutted, but we provided some good entertainment to the people of India.
We were close today… But then, that guy Malinga… He is just a quality performer… What can I say… I mean, thats why you pay so much to get him in the team, isnt it?
It has been a fantastic experience for us… I think, in our team, some of the guys came in as boys and are leaving the tournament as men. We are going to take back very fond memories…
Lasith Malinga (MoM): I am playing for the Mumbai Indians as a bowler and it is my job to take wickets… The first few overs today were very important… I managed to take a couple of wickets early. Then again, with the old ball, my variations worked and I got a couple more. So, at the end of the day, Im very happy that we won the match.
I know how to use the yorkers, bouncers and slowers… The only thing important is to use them against the right batsmen at the right time. I try my level best to do that.
The 19th over was very crucial for us as Franklin gave away very few runs and got wickets too… With 15 runs required of the last over, I knew I had a chance.
For the final, it doesnt matter whom we are playing… I have faith in my abilities.
James Franklin: I think it was a last-minute decision to give me the ball in the penultimate over. Bhajji had faith in me… It was Bhajjis decision. It was nerve-wrecking, but its good to come out on the right side of it. Sometimes, this last-minute decisions pay-off, like it did today.