Even before landing in Chennai for the Qualifying final, Mumbai Indians would have been wary of the turning deck at Chepauk. Their analysts would have derived and presented all the data from the previous matches to the coaching staff. It was always going to be low scoring match and spinners were going to play an influential role. Now, it was up to Mahela Jayawardena and Rohit Sharma to pick the best XI and devise the right strategy to overcome the Chennai Super Kings in their backyard.
T20 cricket is a lot about generating the right match-ups for the conditions and last night Mumbai got it spot on. It all started with the team opting to play only three foreign players and including an extra spinner in Jayant Yadav. It ended with a sublime knock of 71 from 54 balls from Suryakumar Yadav, as Mumbai booked a berth in the IPL final on Sunday with a crushing six-wicket win over their arch-rivals.
The decision to include Jayant in the playing XI was a masterstroke. Mumbai felt they needed a spinner on the tacky surface that could break the ball away from the left-handed Suresh Raina. It was a slight gamble, but it was based on having the best match-up for one of the opposition's premier batsman. Once the combination was right, it was about executing the plans that have been scripted perfectly by the back-room staff.
With two right-handed openers at the crease, Rohit Sharma wasted no time in introducing Krunal Pandya into the attack in the second over. Realising the spin on offer for Krunal, Rohit immediately turned to his leg-spinner and Rahul Chahar struck with his first delivery. Then with the left-handed Suresh Raina at the crease, the Mumbai Indians skipper brought on the off-spinner. Two balls later, Raina perished trying to hit Jayant out of the park. The selection had worked and as had the match-ups.
It was back to two right-handers with Shane Watson and Murali Vijay, so Krunal was given an extra over inside the power-play. It proved to be a masterstroke as Watson perished in the last ball of the sixth over as Chennai slumped to 32-3. It was the lowest score Mumbai had conceded in the power-play in the 2019 IPL. In space of six overs, Mumbai had outthought and outsmarted Chennai.
It was evident from the outset that Mumbai had thought long and hard about how to break down Chennai top-order on a pitch that was always going to aid spin.
Rohit rotated his bowlers flawlessly and despite a 66 run stand between Ambati Rayudu and MS Dhoni at the end, Mumbai had managed to restrict Chennai to modes total of 132. The bowling tactics had been executed faultlessly and it was now up to the batsmen to adjust to the conditions that were relatively foreign to them.
The early loss of Rohit Sharma would have sent a shock through the Mumbai camp, but Suryakumar produced one of his greatest knocks on a difficult surface to seal the deal. Batting at No3, Suryakumar read the conditions and played accordingly. He didn't loft one ball against the spinners nor did he attempt any ambitious drives through the cover region against the slower bowlers.
Suryakumar played the turning ball predominately off the back-foot and continued to nudge the deliveries behind point by using the angles to his favour. From the outset, Surya had gauged that the likes of Imran Tahir and Ravindra Jadeja will attempt to bowl quicker on the surface that was gripping. So he decided to use that extra pace to his advantage. Five of his boundaries were scored in the third-man region. It was an ideal example of how to score runs against spinners on turning tracks without taking any risks.
The tactic frustrated Tahir and it prompted the leg-spinner to strive for that fuller length. Tahir had lost patience and erred by dishing out a couple of full-tosses that Suryakumar easily deposited to the boundary. Surya had not only won the mind games but also conquered the Chennai spinners with his crafty technique.
During the regular season, Surya had registered only one half-century and was gaining a reputation of scoring a pretty 25's. But in the most crucial match this season, he showcased his class and temperament.
"Surya is probably one of our best batsmen against spin. We knew the spin threat they possess will be a huge factor. Surya plays spin very well. I've seen him at close quarters. The shots he plays behind the wicket, those are not easy shots. Always knew he was going to come good at some stage" said Rohit Sharma after the match.
By deriving meticulous plans and forming ideal match-up for the conditions, the Mumbai Indians executed an ideal game plan to crush the Super Kings on their own turf. It was a further indication that analytics play a huge role in T20 cricket and why Mumbai is one of the best in the business.