It is the final strategic time-out of IPL 2019. In a small huddle are Kieron Pollard, Rohit Sharma, Zaheer Khan, and Lasith Malinga. The Chennai Super Kings need 62 of 30 balls to win the title and the Mumbai think-tank is trying to conjure up a strategy to prevent them. As the four men break away, head coach, Mahela Jayawardena walks up to Malinga, taps him on his head and clinches his fist. No words are exchanged nor is there any eye contact.
Malinga knows what his coach wants from him and he uses all his experience to deliver a masterful last over to clinch the title for Mumbai. It would be the fourth instance this season that Mumbai has won a match by fewer than five runs. Last season they had lost a series of close encounters, but in IPL 2019, they held their nerve and executed their plans in the crunch situations better than any other franchise.
A lot of that credit should be given to the senior members. Jasprit Bumrah was the standout, finishing the season with an economy rate of below 7. It would be his ability to choke the opposition in the 17th and 19th over while defending a target that played a pivotal role in Mumbai's success. While other teams were finding it difficult to defend 40 off the last three overs, Mumbai had no tribulations. As former player-turned-commentator, Scott Styris stated on StarSports Dugout, "If you are chasing against Mumbai you need to take the Bumrah factor into the calculations".
If Bumrah was a magician with the ball, then it was the firepower of Hardik Pandya with the bat that changed the dynamics of at least four matches. Last season Hardik had struggled to match the lofty expectations, but this time around he was at his belligerent best. Jayawardena later gave a bring insight about why the all-rounder was so successful in 2019. "For Hardik, it all about keeps the shape. He has plenty of drive through that front foot and we just worked on him keep his shape through the ball."
Bumrah and Hardik had ensured Mumbai gained some momentum during the early season matches. As the season progressed it was the other players that started to perform admirably. Pollard won two matches single-handedly, Alzarri Joseph produced a golden spell and Quinten de Kock started to hit his straps. It was a gradual progression.
In between, the coaching staff had made some brave decisions. They had dropped Yuvraj Singh for Ishan Kishan and Rahul Chahar was drafted into the playing XI for the Mayank Markande.
On making tough selection calls, Jayawardene said: "Start of the season we started with Mayank but everyone thought Rahul was bowling better and we went with that option. It is a collective decision we make and sometimes it is not the easiest of decisions but as long as you are honest about it, it makes things easier."
The hard selection calls were started to prove fruitful as Mumbai won five of the six matches through the middle of the season to remain in the top four. Hardik and Bumrah were still having a huge impact, but other players had started to shine. Importantly, Jayawardena had got the team exactly where he would have wanted heading into the back end of the tournament.
In 2018, Mumbai had constantly been playing catch-up cricket, but this time around they were always ahead of the eight balls. The mid-season revival also enabled the think tank to experiment and come up with Plan B's.
Rohit Sharma had an average season, but his opening partner De Kock finished the season as the leading run-getter for the franchise. De Kock scored 529 runs at 31.26 with four half-centuries. Importantly, Mumbai was finding alternative members to post healthy totals. "Another factor is that opposition finds it difficult to plan when different guys are performing. That has helped us this season," said Jayawardena after the IPL final.
The fact that no Mumbai bowler finished in the top four leading wicket-takers list, but at the same time five bowlers took over 10 wickets is a sign of their collectivism. Similarly in the batting department, only De Kock was in the top-10 leading run-scorer, but three others still managed to accumulate over 400 runs.
Suryakumar Yadav's artist-like 71* in the qualifying final against Chennai was a great example of how other players had stepped up when it mattered. Leg-spinner Chahar had become a match-winner and his spell in the final for a 20-year-old was exemplary.
In the end, when its title was really up for grabs, it was the senior players such as Malinga and Pollard that came to the party. The fact that Malinga demanded the ball in the last over told a lot about the confidence in the Mumbai Indians camp. At various stages, especially at the back end of the season, one player produced a herculean effort to dig them out of the doldrums. The collective exertion was Mumbai's strength this season.
Yes, there were a couple of standouts such as Bumrah and Hardik, but it is the ability of the players around them to take their game to the next level when it mattered the most that eventually led to a record-breaking fourth IPL title.
The core group is likely to stay together again next season and players such as Kishan and Chahar are bound to improve. There is doubt if Malinga can return next year so one of the primary aims will be to find a tailor-made replacement. For now, however, the team can simply relish being champions for the fourth time in seven seasons.