Decision to rest key players hurts Royals in the race to finish among the top two qualifiers

Mumbai Indians kept its play-off hopes, however slim, alive with a comfortable 25-run victory over Rajasthan Royals in a one-sided IPL encounter on Monday.

Electing to bat, MI scored a stiff 178 for three riding on half-centuries from Lendl Simmons (62) and Mike Hussey (56). In reply, Royals were never in the chase and were restricted for 153 for eight. Karun Nair with 48 off 24 balls was the lone ranger for the Royals after Unmukt Chand, Shane Watson and Sanju Viswanadh had departed early to leave the host struggling at 42 for three.

Fielding brilliance

While Karun was playing his strokes at other end, Kevon Cooper was dismissed by a sheer piece of fielding brilliance from Kieron Pollard standing at the long-on boundary. Cooper hit a Harbhajan Singh delivery which would have been a sure six had any other fielder save Pollard manning that area.

The giant Caribbean timed his jump to perfection as he plucked a one-handed catch but the momentum was forcing him over the ropes. He kept his balance and threw the ball inside. He then turned in a flash to dive in front and completed a stunner as Cooper looked shell-shocked.

Brad Hodge (40) and James Faulkner (31) then tried their bit but it was too late by then.

It was a collective effort by the MI bowlers, led by senior pro Harbhajan Singh, who had figures of two for 13 from four overs. Pragyan Ojha took two for 30 from his four overs, while Shreyas Gopal, playing his first match, also took two wickets giving away 25 runs.

Royals’s team management’s baffling decision to rest the performing trio of Ajinkya Rahane, Pravin Tambe and Steven Smith backfired as the team lost the necessary momentum going into the match.

Royals with 14 points from 12 games remain third and firmly in the hunt. But back-to-back losses will certainly affect their chances of finishing in the top two which would have given them an additional game. Mumbai now has eight points from 11 matches.

Earlier, Mumbai Indians put up a competitive 178 for three due to a century-plus opening stand between Mike Hussey and Lendl Simons. Comeback man Hussey and Simmons put on 120 runs for the first stand, which incidentally was the first three-figure partnership for MI in 30 games.