Rohit Sharma is an astute T20 captain, probably the best in this IPL when it comes to defending totals. On good batting pitches and fast outfields, T20 games in IPL tend to favour the team batting second. You see captains getting rattled easily when the batsmen start to get on top in a chase and trying to make bowling changes every second over in an attempt to seize back some initiative only to further compound their woes.
It's easy to disregard Rohit's captaincy skills because he doesn't try too many funky things in the field. His bowling changes and field settings mostly follow a strict template. But that precisely is his biggest strength in a pressure game, that ability to stick to the plans that he knows work the best for his team, and then backing his teammates to deliver.
Rohit hardly ever gives Jasprit Bumrah more than one over at the start. It's probably a mental thing as much as a tactical one. That feeling of having Bumrah's overs in the bank is what keeps the belief going for his team all the time. When a key partnership starts developing, the temptation is to go back to your key bowlers before it's too late. Rohit invariably resists that temptation.
The players who perform under pressure the best are the ones that always believe they have more time in the game and are prepared to take the game deep. MS Dhoni in his prime was famous to take a chase till the last over and back himself to come good in a man-to-man battle against the bowler with all to play for. Rohit does the same in the field. Even as the chasing team seems to have the upper hand in the chase, Rohit just tries to stay in the game till the death overs and expect his bowlers to hold the nerves better than the batsmen.
Defending 185 at Wankhede wasn't an easy task on Wednesday night, especially when the opposition is 145/1 at the end of 16 overs. 40 off 4 is routine in T20 games these days. Bumrah had so far bowled the second and the 12th over of the innings going for just five runs. Rohit was always going to save him for the 17th and the 19th no matter how the game panned out. Before this point, the batsmen were prepared to see him off; they can't now. Bumrah's 12 balls are the game and the season for Mumbai.
Bumrah got two wickets in his seventeenth over. The one to watch out for when you look at the highlights is that of Marcus Stoinis. The Australian was taken entirely by surprise with the Bumrah bouncer and reacted extremely late. There are many different schools of thoughts on how to bowl in the death overs. Some prefer yorkers, some change in pace, some even spin. But there is one principle that works all the time, and it's the one only the best proponents of death bowling art can use. It is the principle of taking the batsman by surprise six out six times in the over. The Stoinis wicket was an example of a batsman losing his wicket to the element of surprise.
Bumrah's other ability is to read the match situation and pitch conditions early. He knew the ball is gripping a bit on the pitch, and in the 19th over of the game, he backed himself to get KL Rahul with a slower one. A set Rahul who had just collected three consecutive boundaries in the last over, could only hit it as far as long off's throat. Bumrah had delivered. Three key men in the chase dismissed while giving away next to nothing in terms of runs. Mitchell McClenaghan got the much-needed cushion of defending 17 in the final over and was able to see Mumbai home.
Before Bumrah's heroics, the game had a comeback tale for Mumbai. Keiron Pollard has been a critical figure in the Mumbai line-up ever since he was picked up in the team on the back of some breathtaking performances for Trinidad and Tobago in T20 Champions League. His batting, bowling and fielding abilities had rescued Mumbai Indians at crucial moments in different seasons.
Pollard's 2018 was in shambles before this game. Playing as a pure batsman now, Pollard had scored just 76 runs in seven games. Numbers that forced Mumbai Indians to do the unthinkable and drop Pollard for a few games. His replacement JP Duminy gave the team a few useful overs and a more reliable option with the bat, albeit one that was hardly ever used.
The Mumbai Indians' team management is one of the main reasons for their success over the years. They have an eye for young talent like no other franchise in the competition, and they know just the right time to back the right person for a job. For this crunch game, they backed Keiron Pollard. From how Pollard came out and played with all the freedom in the world even as Mumbai were in a spot of bother with the loss of wickets, it seems he was also given the license to express himself with his shot-making without worrying about losing his wicket. It was the same instruction that worked wonders for Ishan Kishan against Kolkata Knight Riders at Eden Gardens.
Pollard came out and scored a brisk 50 off just 23 balls to get the Mumbai innings back on track after they lost their way with a few quick wickets in the middle. His return to form will be a huge confidence booster for Mumbai in their final league game which is again a must-win to stay alive. With their superior Net Run Rate at the moment, Mumbai Indians have a very good chance of making it to the playoffs if they win their next game against Delhi Daredevils.