Captain Sachin Tendulkar led from the front with an unbeaten 59-ball 89, his highest Indian Premier League score, as Mumbai Indians beat Rajasthan Royals by 37 runs to become the first team to seal its place in the semi-finals of the Twenty20 event here on Sunday.
Tendulkar decorated his innings with 10 fours and two sixes to not only register his fifth fifty of the tournament, but also become the highest run-getter in IPL 3 with 506 runs and snatch the Orange cap from Royal Challengers Bangalore’s Jacques Kallis (501).
Yet again the Mumbai innings revolved around Tendulkar as he first shared crucial 63 runs for the fourth wicket with JP Duminy (31 off 32) and then added 50 runs with Kieron Pollard (25 off 13) to guide the table toppers to 174 for five, especially after they were 30 for three at one stage.
Shane Watson was the pick of the Rajasthan bowlers with figures of three for 37.
Chasing the competitive target, Rajasthan did not help their cause as Mumbai restricted the hosts to 137 for eight, courtesy some rash shots and insensible running between the wickets which saw the downfall of three of their batsmen — Shane Watson, Faiz Fazal and Abhishek Jhunjhunwala (22 off 22).
With this win Mumbai are through to the semis with 16 points from 11 matches, while Rajasthan face a must-win situation in their remaining two outings.
Michael Lumb started on a positive note for Rajasthan with two fours off Dhawal Kulkarni in the second over before the Mumbai pacer got the better of the left-hander, caught by Duminy.
Zaheer Khan then removed the other Rajasthan opener Naman Ojha in the first ball of the third over, caught by a diving Tendulkar at the first slip.
As if that was not enough, Watson fell prey to an unnecessary mix up with Faiz Fazal two balls later. The Australian was caught short of the crease by Ambati Rayudu’s direct throw as he responded to a non-existent single call from Fazal.
And then it was the turn of Fazal to be at the receiving end as he became the victim of a miscommunication with Jhunjhunwala to see Rajasthan totter at 40 for four after seven overs.
Yusuf Pathan too did very little to justice to his name as he ballooned one to Harbhajan Singh off Pollard after hitting the West Indian for a six in the previous delivery.
Adam Voges showed some resistance with a 27-ball 28-run innings before he edged one to Rayudu off Zaheer.
Aditya Dole (30 off 18) and Abhishek Raut (20 off 17) reduced the defeat margin for Rajasthan with a 50-run eighth wicket stand.
Zaheer accounted for two Rajasthan batters, giving away just 17 runs off his four overs while Kulkarni and Lasith Malinga and Harbhajan scalped one each.
Earlier opting to field, Watson struck twice in the second over — Sanath Jayasuriya and Ambati Rayudu — to disbalance Mumbai innings.
Jayasuriya had a nightmarish return to the Mumbai Indians side as the veteran Sri Lankan lasted only two balls, spooning a Watson delivery down to Abhishek Jhunjhunwala.
Two balls later Watson had the best of Rayudu with a beauty of a bouncer that kissed the right-hander’s glove onto wicket-keeper Naman Ojha’s safe hands.
Saurabh Tiwary showed some sparkle with three fours before he hooked one straight to Aditya Dole at fine leg to give Watson his third wicket of the day.
Tendulkar, however, was rock solid at the other end and together with Duminy he milked the Rajasthan bowling to drag Mumbai out of trouble with the 56-ball 63-run stand.
Tendulkar hit Warne for three boundaries in the 12th over to up the Mumbai run-rate after setting the early foundation.
But just when Tendulkar and Duminy started to open up Siddharth Trivedi broke the dangerous-looking partnership, getting the wicket of the later caught by Lumb off Trivedi.
It could have been double blow for Mumbai three overs later had it not been for Dole, who dropped the vital wicket of Tendulkar on 45 off Trivedi as the champion batsman went for an extravagant hook.
Having survived a life there was no stopping the Mumbai skipper as he and big-hitting Pollard smashed Rajasthan bowlers to all parts of the ground to notch up the 50-run fifth-wicket partnership that came off just 5.3 overs.
Pollard innings, however, was cut short by a Dole yorker in the 18th over but not before the West Indian struck three fours and a huge six.
Tendulkar used his long handle to great effect and murdered Trivedi for two sixes and a four to pile up 20 runs of the final over and finish the Mumbai innings in style.