There are two things that probably went through MS Dhoni’s head as he saw his stumps being knocked back by a Lasith Malinga yorker on Sunday night. How could his star-studded team have fallen at the final hurdle yet again? And how the hell did Mumbai Indians manage to pull this one off? Probably he wasn’t the only one left pondering with bewilderment. For, Rohit Sharma & Co had just orchestrated a remarkable turnaround, and walked away with the title. This despite having languished at the bottom of the points-tally with one win in five matches just a month ago.
Punter’s final punt
As Mumbai slumped to defeat after defeat at the start of their campaign, the camera would invariably pan towards their camp setting off mocking discussions about their all-star dugout. At some levels it was understandable. For, despite the presence of Ricky Ponting, Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Jonty Rhodes, Shane Bond and Robin Singh among others, the team still seemed to be plodding along like a headless horse. In Ponting, Mumbai had handed the reins to a superstar former cricketer with no previous coaching experience. But eventually, there was a Ponting stamp on how Mumbai went for the jugular in the final.
Some 12 years ago, the then Australian captain had taken the Indian attack head-on in a World Cup final, targeting the key bowlers with ruthless disdain. At Eden, Rohit & Co did the same. After losing Parthiv Patel in the first over, the Mumbai skipper charged at Mohit Sharma and hit him for two fours and a six before going after Ashish Nehra in the next over. Lendl Simmons then chopped off Dhoni’s other major arm by smashing his spinners out of the attack. At the end of the 11th over, Mumbai were scoring at 10-an-over, and CSK never recovered in the field-again reminiscent of Johannesburg, 2003.
Rohit checks in
If Ponting was pulling the strings from the sidelines, Rohit was calling the shots in the middle. It started with him agreeing to push himself down the order, even if he did so reluctantly to start with. The right-hander had started the tournament with an enterprising 98 not out at the Eden Gardens before scoring two ducks on the trot. Once down the order, he started off with a 31-ball 50 against CSK in a losing cause and ended with a 26-ball 50 that helped his team win the crown. His self-inflicted demotion also allowed Simmons and Parthiv Patel to form a stable opening partnership that Mumbai had lacked for years.
Rohit also used his bowlers cleverly. The experience and wicket-taking form of Malinga, McClenaghan and Harbhajan helped his cause too. In the final, he took the gamble of bowling out Hardik Pandya in the middle overs despite the presence of Raina and Dhoni. He didn’t turn to the left-arm spin of Jagadeesha Suchith at all.
Against Sunrisers, he opened with Harbhajan to combat Dhawan and Warner and he defied logic, successfully though, by giving a barely warmed-up Kieron Pollard the final over against Kolkata Knight Riders.
Mumbai only lost two out of 10 matches after their loss to CSK at Wankhede on April 17. It was Dwayne Smith who hurt them that evening with a 30-ball 62. In their next three encounters-all of which were won by MI-Smith was nullified with Rohit getting his pacers to bowl short of length, cramping the West Indian and killing his destructive ability. Smith’s half-century in the final was what batted CSK into a corner.
The MnM show
Two years ago when Mumbai won their maiden title, the pairing of Malinga and Mitchell Johnson had paved the way with the new-ball. This year, the Sri Lankan found another fiery Mitchell bowling left-arm pace but from across the Tasman for company. But it wasn’t until the game against RCB in Bengaluru that McClenaghan got a look in. He finished with figures of 1/43 but that included the wicket of Virat Kohli as Mumbai posted their first win. The match also saw Malinga get his rhythm going and saw him bowl his first maiden of the season, and also set off Mumbai’s glory run. McClenaghan delivered a wicket for his skipper almost on call, striking in the first over of his second spell more than 60 per cent of the time while Malinga continued to be a menace with the old-ball. The MnM show eventually finished with 42 wickets at 19.76.
Injury, a blessing in disguise
Coming into the IPL, Aaron Finch was looked at as Mumbai’s most celebrated pick for the season, and an answer to their opening blues. But as he hobbled off holding his hamstring, it’s unlikely many in the MI camp were frowning, for the Australian had hardly come to the party. His injury opened the door for Simmons to come in. And like he had done last season, he proved to be just the filip Mumbai needed. He played with his unbridled flair and aggression, handing his team crucial momentum early on, and eventually finished as their top run-scorer with 540 runs at 45 with 6 half-centuries, including the match-winning 68 on Sunday.
Pollard & Bhajji get in-sync
On Sunday, Pollard even managed to give his team’s redemption tale a theme song as he hummed out his rendition of rapper Drake’s “started from the bottom, now we’re here”. It was a season where he was up to his usual theatrics, even putting on a patch on his mouth when he felt umpires were being biased against his verbal exchanges. But it was also a season where he set up victories with the bat, displaying unexpected consistency, and scoring over 400 runs for only the second time ever after doing so in 2013 when MI were champions last. Along with his routine cameos, he also steadied the ship on occasions before opening his shoulders and smashing balls into orbit -28 sixes in all. Like Pollard, Harbhajan too has been guilty of drifting through IPL seasons without a significant impact. But this season, Bhajji played a huge role in strangling oppositions by changing his approach, and even won a recall to the Indian team with his performances. And Harbhajan was singing praises of his one-time nemesis turned coach, Ponting.
Careful with that axe, Eugene
Over the years, Mumbai have earned notorious renown for wielding the axe with no remorse in terms of their personnel. And they stuck to chopping and changing at the start, averaging close to three per match. But once the wins started rolling in and youngsters Pandya and Suchith made their presence felt, the champions hardly shuffled around with their team, remaining unchanged for most parts.
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