Jimmy Neesham and Nathan Coulter-Nile bowled exceptionally well to keep Mumbai Indians alive and kicking as they outclassed Rajasthan Royals by eight wickets in a low-scoring Indian Premier League match, here on Tuesday. New Zealander Neesham (3/12) and Aussie Coulter-Nile (4/14) snapped seven wickets for only 26 runs in eight overs between them to choke Rajasthan for a meagre 90 for 9.
The five-time champions then knocked off the runs in 8.2 overs to go up to 12 points and more importantly improve their net run-rate to -0.048. This was also the biggest victory for MI in terms of balls left (70). Ishan Kishan (50 not out), who has endured wretched form during the better part of the UAE leg, got some much-needed confidence during the short chase. He hit five fours and three sixes and fittingly, finished it with a maximum.
MI will now meet Sunrisers Hyderabad on Friday, another must-win game but they would also want Kolkata Knight Riders (12 points, NRR +0.294) to lose their last match against Royals on Thursday. In case KKR wins and move up to 14 points, MI on the last day would know how much they require to get past the Shah Rukh Khan-owned team's net run-rate.
On the day, Neesham and Coulter-Nile hit the ideal length on a tacky strip as they choked Royals to the lowest T20 total by any team batting first at Sharjah. Rohit Sharma was spot-on in deciding to bowl first and Neesham (3/12), playing his first game of the UAE leg, took the pace off his deliveries on a Sharjah track where the ball wasn't coming onto the bat.
Coulter-Nile (4-0-14-4) was equally effective with his change-ups and hitting the hard lengths more often than not en-route one of his best IPL spells. Neesham and Coulter-Nile cumulatively gave away only 26 runs between them in eight overs and also got a whopping seven wickets, which threw the Royals out of the contest.
Jasprit Bumrah (2/14) was menacing as ever with crucial wickets as it was one of MI's closest to perfect bowling performance. Royals were blown away in a space of four overs as they slumped from 41 for 1 in the last over of Powerplay to 50 for 5 by the time the first 10 was about to end. There was no looking back for MI from that position.
The in-form Sanju Samson (3) tried to slash hard without reaching to the pitch of the delivery as Jayant Yadav at point took a diving catch. Shivam Dube after the CSK heroics tried to reach at a fuller delivery on 'fifth stump" and dragged it back while Rahul Tewatia (12 off 20 balls) in the midst of a horrendous season, tried to pull a short ball that came late and took the edge into keeper's hands.
Neesham's induction in place of Krunal Pandya, who has been a regular feature for a good five years now, proved to be a master-stroke as he didn't give enough pace to manoeuvre and also bowled wicket-to wicket, not experimenting much.
Evin Lewis (24 off 19 balls) once again started in rollicking fashion but the course of Royals innings was changed when talented Yashasvi Jaiswal (12) failed to ride the bounce off a Coulter-Nile delivery to be caught behind. Once Bumrah got rid of Lewis with an angular delivery, the rest of the Royals batters fell like a pack of cards.