Mumbai Indians had left it late once again. They had to win their last game against Delhi Daredevils, a side which was languishing at the bottom of the table but had overpowered Chennai Super Kings in their previous game, to seal a playoff spot. It was not going to be an easy task but at least Mumbai had their fate in their own hands; unlike Rajasthan Royals or Kings XI Punjab.
To be in that enviable position after losing five of their first six matches rightly underlined how strong this team was. But the way the final fixture unfolded also showed what was wrong with Mumbai Indians the whole season.
On a slow Feroz Shah Kotla wicket, 175 was always going to be a stiff chase. But Mumbai batted deep, a team combination that had worked beautifully for them in the second half of the season, and would've fancied their chances.
They started the chase decently. Then shot themselves in the foot with a mini collapse. Resurrected the innings only to lose their way once again. Even a late Ben Cutting cameo couldn't take them over the line. That's what Mumbai's story has been in this tournament.
Throughout the match, the required run rate never went out of Mumbai's reach, but anxiety had the better of them, and one after another, the batsmen kept committing silly errors. A team that has won three titles surely should have done better. Truth be told, they underperformed and have no one but themselves to blame.
What went wrong?
Five last-over losses. Imagine a catch being taken, or a six being hit at the right time. Even a couple of well executed yorkers could've avoided Mumbai from being in such a desperate situation. They couldn't win those crunch moments. Momentum is considered to be a very vital aspect of a T20 game and when Mumbai seemed to have lost it even before gaining it in the opening match of IPL 2018, when Chennai Super Kings snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat.
Apart from that, the middle-order batting hurt Mumbai a lot. In Pandya brothers and Kieron Pollard, Mumbai had a blend of both explosiveness and experience. But the trio disappointed. The biggest let-down of them was Pollard, who was rightly dropped midway into the season. His fifty against Kings XI Punjab did little to salvage what was a horrid season for the West Indian. Hardik and Krunal did contribute with the bat but they couldn't score those 70s and 80s which are quite vital if the star batsman fails.
Rohit Sharma has been an exemplary limited-overs international opener for almost five years, but he hardly batted at the top for Mumbai. So Rohit opening in the first couple of games was a welcome move, but the misfiring middle-order forced him to come down the order. But runs deserted him and he couldn't do much to steady the ship.
In Jasprit Bumrah, Mumbai had a bowler who could step into the shoes of Lasith Malinga, who was a champion bowler for the side for almost a decade. But the Gujarat pacer blew hot and cold. Mustafizur Rahman too couldn't live up to his potential and Mitchell McClenaghan rose ahead of the Bangladeshi in the pecking order. Mayank Markande promised a lot but the advantage of being an unknown commodity reduced as the season progressed and teams started reading him.
Turning point of the season
Mumbai would be ruing the five last-over losses but they were still games in which they competed. They were in the game for 39 overs before ending on the wrong side. But if there was one game which they had no business losing was the home fixture against Sunrisers Hyderabad. One could praise the SRH bowling line-up, but to not being able to chase down 119 on a wicket that offered very little to the bowlers was nothing but a shambolic performance.
The head coach Mahela Jayawardene admission in the post-match press conference was telling. He was frank enough to admit that 'the players didn't use their heads'. It was a defeat which must have been difficult to swallow. Mumbai did recover after that match, but the anxiousness in chases showed.
Hits and Flops
Suryakumar Yadav's batting and Hardik Pandya's bowling stood out for Mumbai. Suryakumar, who returned 'home', after a long stint with Kolkata Knight Riders was given the responsibility to bat up the order and he was up for the challenge. He ended up as the team's highest run-getter with 512 runs and struck them at 133.33. He complemented Evin Lewis effectively though he himself agreed that he could've played a more match-winning innings.
Hardik's batting has tapered off a bit in 2018, but his bowling has gone from strength to strength since the South Africa tour. He bowled in the Powerplays, delivered in death and broke partnerships throughout the season. That he finished ahead of Jasprit Bumrah in the wickets column highlights how much has he rose in stature as a bowler. His brother Krunal once again was at his best and displayed he is ready to don the national colours.
Spin department was thought to be a weakness in the Mumbai side, but Markande's introduction put an end to those thoughts. He wasn't quite SRH's Rashid Khan or RCB's Yuzvendra Chahal but he held his own in his maiden season. That he is just 20 augurs well for Mumbai.
Ishan Kishan was tipped by many experts as Mumbai Indians' X-factor, but the youngster had an indifferent season. He did showed glimpses of his potential most noticeably against KKR at Eden Gardens with a 21-ball 62 but he would like to be more consistent.
It doesn't help when senior players underperform. And it becomes worse when two of them – Rohit and Pollard – have a poor season together. It is not a secret that Mumbai rely on Rohit heavily and whenever he performs, more often than not the side ends up on the winning side. Being aware of this fact might have put him under more pressure. But that can't be used as an excuse for the season that he has had.
What next for them?
Think they would be excited for next season considering it is an odd year and their three titles have come in 2013, 2015 and 2017. Jokes apart, they have a big decision to make: keep or release Pollard? They have an able replacement for him in Ben Cutting, who also offers the sixth bowling option. Chances of Pollard not being in the squad are low as Mumbai have a very personal connection with all their players. (They even hired Malinga as a bowling mentor after he went unsold at the auction). They should also strengthen the middle-order and let Rohit open the batting.
There is not much Mumbai can do apart from that. They have a good squad, an excellent captain, a coach who has already won them a title and an icon whose mere presence is enough to boost the morale of the team. They just have break the habit of leaving it too late.