By Anurag Dey
Kolkata: Notwithstanding a blistering Dwayne Smith knock, Mumbai Indians stuttered to a four-wicket victory over Rajasthan Royals in a nail-biting Indian Premier League (IPL) playoff to enter the finals.
Harbhajan Singh picked up a boundary off the penultimate delivery, as Mumbai reached a winning 169/6 at the Eden Gardens to make it to the summit round for only the second time in the cash-rich league.
Coming Sunday, they would take on two time champions Chennai Super Kings at the same venue.
The two sides had clashed for the title in 2010, when Chennai won by 22 runs.
Looking favourites for most part of the chase, Mumbai seemed to lose their way in the middle overs, before eventually getting past the Royals’ score of 165.
The Barbados big hitter Smith laid the foundation for the victory with a 44 ball 62 (6×4 2×6), and a blitz 70-run opening wicket stand with Aditya Tare (35; 27 b, 3×4, 2×6).
After Tare fell, Smith and Dinesh Karthik (22; 17 b 3×4) plundered another 55 from only 30 balls.
With just 41 required from 36 balls, Mumbai seemed to be coasting to victory when Royals’ inflicted two quick damages.
Karthik got out to Cooper, while skipper Rohit Sharma 2 (8) castled by Siddharth Trivedi.
There was some more drama when Smith spooned a catch to Sanju Samson. Tension was writ large in both the camps as Mumbai needed 26 in the last three overs with the dangerous Kieron Pollard and Ambati Rayudu at the crease.
Royals bowler James Faulkner struck gold in the 18th over when Pollard 11 (6b,1×6) trying to hit a biggie holed out in the deep.
With 23 required from the last 12 balls, the game was increasingly going away from Mumbai but Rayudu hit a six and a four to score 15 runs of the 19th over to keep his team in the hunt.
Brad Hodge did not help matters for the Royals as he failed to latch on to a difficult chance in the same over.
Adding a further twist, Shane Watson trapped Rayudu 17 (11b 1×4 1×6) in front in the death over, but eventually Mumbai managed to finish it off.
Chasing 166 to book a place in the finals, Mumbai started off briskly scoring 45 runs in the first six overs.
The duo galloped to 70 in nine overs before Tare was snared by Sanju Samson of the bowling of Kevon Cooper.
Meanwhile, Smith continued his good run with the bat and kept scoring at a brisk rate as Mumbai went past 100 in the 13th over.
Earlier, led by an unbeaten cameo from keeper-willower Dishant Yagnik, Royals rode on a late batting surge to post a decent total.
The unbroken seventh wicket partnership of 57 in only 27 balls by Yagnik (31; 17b 5×4) and Brad Hodge (19; 20b 2×4) allowed the Royals to recover after they were put on the backfoot by the Mumbai bowlers who claimed wickets at regular intervals.
Opting to bat first, the Royals made a steady start as skipper Rahul Dravid played some fluent shots to top score with a 37-ball 43 studded with seven fours.
Faced with some incisive bowling by Mumbai, the Royals looked edgy at 110/6 in the 16th over.
But Rajasthan’s last match hero Hodge and Yagnik smashed 55 runs in the last four overs to pull their team out of the woods.
Bowling the last over speedster Lasith Malinga conceded 18 runs including two extremely wide deliveries.
Harbhajan (3/23) and Kieron Pollard (2/6) were the most successful bowlers.