At the end of 14 overs in Mumbai Indians’ innings at the Wankhede Stadium on Wednesday night, the scoring rate was less than run-a-ball. Not a single six had been hit against what was proving to be a very disciplined bowling performance by Chennai Super Kings. The scoreboard read 82/3 and Mumbai needed something special in the death overs to post a competitive total.

Hardik Pandya delivered. He hit 25 runs in the eight balls he faced to put Mumbai in driver’s seat.

At the end of 14 overs in CSK’s run-chase later in the night, the scoring rate was slightly higher than run-a-ball. The defending champions were ahead of Mumbai at that stage. MS Dhoni, in good form coming into this match, was getting his eye in. The scoreboard read 87/3 and Mumbai needed to ensure that the CSK captain doesn’t get going like only he can in the end overs and pull another rabbit out of the famed yellow hat.

Hardik Pandya delivered again. He dismissed Dhoni in the 15th over to ensure there were no late fireworks that took the match away from Mumbai.

In what will be a night to remember for the young all-rounder, MI produced a clinical performance to hand CSK their first defeat of the 12th edition of the Indian Premier League. And a convincing 37-run defeat at that.

Hardik’s blitzkrieg

While the batting effort of MI was the ideal team effort and did not have one standout performer, it was Hardik’s innings that converted a sub-par decent total into a match-winning target on a pitch that had definite assistance for seam bowlers.

The younger Pandya walked out to bat when his elder sibling was dismissed in the 17th over after a chancy yet crucial innings, a 32-ball 42. Mumbai’s innings, despite Suryakumar Yadav’s enterprising knock, was struggling for momentum. And, as he had done in the previous two matches, Hardik provided an injection of adrenaline to proceedings.

There is no doubt that the six he hit on the fourth ball of the last over off Dwayne Bravo will go down as one of the shots of the tournament. What would have been a perfect Yorker, was converted into a half volley by Hardik’s positioning deep inside the crease. And out came the Helicopter shot that would have made the man behind the stumps proud, even if a little bit vexed. It was sent soaring into stands as Dhoni could only watch Bravo get hit for 29 runs in the final over - the most expensive single over by a CSK bowler in the tournament’s history.

Hardik has been striking the ball very cleanly in this IPL after getting out for a duck in the first match against Delhi Capitals. And despite only making cameo appearances, Hardik has left his inimitable mark in all three outings with the bat since.

Hardik Pandya in IPL 2019

Hardik Pandya 1) vs DC: 0 off 2 balls / 4-0-41-1

2) vs RCB: 32 off 14 balls / 3-0-37-0

3) vs KXIP: 31 off 19 balls / 3-0-39-0

4) vs CSK: 25 off 8 balls / 4-0-20-3

A bigger positive

While his ball-striking capabilities have never been in doubt, it was Hardik’s bowling performance that would have made Rohit Sharma (and Virat Kohli, as well) happier.

In the previous two matches, Hardik’s one over before the final burst of Lasith Malinga and Jasprit Bumrah was an automatic target for the opponents. AB de Villiers targeted him in Bengaluru, while KXIP went after him too in Mohali.

But it was precisely that one over that decisively swung the game in Mumbai’s favour against CSK. Bowling the 15th, Hardik picked up two wickets in the space of three balls - Dhoni was rushed into playing a pull shot as he clearly calculated that he had go after Hardik in that over if CSK had to keep their chances alive. Ravindra Jadeja’s wicket soon followed and MI had more or less assured their 100th IPL win.

“It feels pretty good to help the team to win and contribute. It’s been seven months that I’ve hardly played games, I’ve just batted and batted. I want to improve my game every day. It’s a fantastic feeling batting like that and making your team win,” Pandya said, indicating a lot of hard work has gone into his batting at a time when it could not have been easy for him to stay focused.

Practice definitely paid off for Hardik as one of the videos he had posted on his social media in the days leading up to the season, was a Helicopter shot. When he played that very shot to perfection in the 20th over against CSK, it must have felt especially good.

“I was out with injury for a while and then some other controversy happened. I want to dedicate this Man of the Match to my family and friends, who stood with me in the toughest times. Now my only focus is to play IPL and make sure India wins the World Cup.”

While that should have been his focus all along, it is good that a rejuvenated Hardik is starting to enjoy himself on the cricket field. He is delivering performances expected of a star athlete, in front of the right kind of cameras. If he keeps up his fitness and form, Indian cricket stands to benefit. And coming a few days before the impending hearing with the BCCI Ombudsman, it was also a reminder of his importance to India’s chances at the World Cup.

As Nita Ambani put it perfectly in her words at the end of the match, “what an all-round performance by him.”