Last season Lasith Malinga sat in the Mumbai Indians dugout as a mentor. This season he had delivered Mumbai their fourth championship by bowling one of the greatest overs in T20 cricket. Malinga's path from a coach back to a player is rather symbolic of the culture that has been instilled into Mumbai setup.
After an unsuccessful campaign in 2018, the Mumbai think-tank could easily have searched for a like-to-like replacement for Malinga, but instead, they asked him an honest question – does he still have what it takes to succeed at the highest level? Once the answer was yes, the trust was mutual. Malinga was a Mumbai asset and the owners treated him like a treasure. He was flown on to Sri Lanka, a couple of hours after an IPL match to play in a domestic league as per Sri Lankan board's requirements. Next moment, Mahela Jayawardena played the negotiating role to ensure Mumbai had their death bowler back into the IPL before anyone else could arbitrate. It was man and resource management at its best.
But Malinga is only the small piece of the puzzle. The secret of Mumbai Indians is based on the owners wanting and demanding ‘success'. It is basically you tell us what you want and we will get it for you, but in return we want titles, nothing else. It is easier said than done. Other franchises too might have the same mentality, but the hierarchy structure at Mumbai is far superior to any other team.
It is no surprise then to hear each and every MI player speak volumes about their support staff at the post-match presentation. Even the great Sachin Tendulkar told broadcasters Star Sports "we have a huge support staff and we all owe a lot to them as well".
For Mumbai, it all starts with recruitment. Mumbai is arguably the first team to realise that to succeed in T20 cricket, one needs to have four sound pillars of strength. In chronological order – the pillars are – a death over specialist, an opening batsman that can yield 500 runs, a basher in the middle order and a spinner that can turn the ball both ways. In 2018, Mumbai had a finisher in Bumrah and a bludgeoner in Hardik but needed to find an opening batsman that could churn out the runs and a wrist spinner that could outfox the opposition.
The coaching staff was quick to realise they needed an opening batsman that was capable of producing in excess of 500 runs. Quinton de Kock was recruited and the left-hander was one of the pillars to their success. Amidst this successful culture, there is always a chance a youngster will raise his claims. This year that player was Rahul Chahar. The 20-year-old provided Mumbai with that fourth pillar of strength and was arguably the find of the season.
All the talk before the tournament had also been based around the load management of Jasprit Bumrah. At the end of it, Bumrah had played in all 16 matches. Mumbai had managed their priceless commodity brilliantly. After the opening match, it looked like he had damaged his shoulder, so instead of flying him to Bangalore with the team, the management decided to give him the luxury of recovering in Mumbai. Bumrah would end up flying to the venue on the morning of the match accompanied by the primary physio.
When the Mumbai Indians had to play back-to-back matches in a space of 36 hours, the crux of players was flown on a private jet to ensure they were in peak condition. These might be small aspects, but in the end, they define the winning society.
Then there are all the analytics and the strategies. Those close to the setup believe the communication between the back-room staff to coach to the captain is exceptional. The qualifying final is perhaps the best example of how well Mumbai plan for a game. On a slow pitch in Chennai, they outthought and outsmarted the home team by coming up with the appropriate player match-ups that ensured success.
Rohit Sharma gave a glimpse of all the planning when he said, "We broke the season in two parts. First, we wanted to start well and then once we got that momentum we could focus on each game in the back half of the tournament".
But at the end of the day, any sport is about execution under pressure. On Sunday night, the stalwarts of Mumbai in Kieron Pollard, Jasprit Bumrah and Lasith Malinga delivered when it really mattered. As Ishan Kishan said after the match, "When we have a bowler like Bumrah we knew we could win from any situation". It was evident the faith and the belief in the camp is phenomenal. But such aspects are not instilled overnight. It takes ample of meticulous planning that is supported by a strong administration and the backing of the owners. After four IPL titles in seven years, it is fair to say Mumbai has mastered the blueprint to success.