As soon as it went to the Super Over, you backed Mumbai to do it.
With the ball, Rohit Sharma could choose between two of the greatest exponents of the yorker in the contemporary game. One an all-time legend with silverware against his name already, the other on the way to becoming one. Lasith Malinga and Jasprit Bumrah, two outliers not just in their performance, but also the freaky nature of their bowling actions.
With the bat, the obvious choice was Hardik Pandya, even though he was the bowler who allowed Sunrisers Hyderabad into a Super Over in the first place. Pandya conceded 16 in the final over to allow SRH to tie a game they were lagging behind in all throughout. But with the bat, there was no question he would take first strike. Pandya has shown a propensity to hit sixes very early in his innings this season, besides a strike rate of almost 200, second only to the insanity of Andre Russell. Giving him company was Kieron Pollard, another of the game’s big hitters.
So even though SRH would hand the ball to Rashid Khan, arguably the best T20 bowler in the world, Mumbai were clear favourites when the game was condensed to six balls. And that’s exactly how it played out. After a run out nipped out Manish Pandey, Bumrah castled Mohammed Nabi with a searing yorker. Chasing just eight, Hardik smashed Rashid for an early six, sealing the game. And taking Mumbai to the Playoffs for the seventh time in 10 years.
The tactical superiority they commanded in the Super Over, especially in the absence of SRH’s star overseas players David Warner and Jonny Bairstow, is a testament to the squad they have built, not just this season, but in most. Mumbai have adopted a hybrid strategy, nurturing and holding on to a few players who fit their needs, while going to the table for new ones. The likes of Pollard, Malinga, Bumrah and the Pandya brothers are their long term investments, all match winners in their own right. And around this core, they have rotated a clutch of overseas and domestic players, both rookies and those with experience. They have often picked players with long-term availability.
The likes of Harbhajan Singh, Dinesh Karthik, Parthiv Patel have all worn Mumbai colours, and younger players like Nitish Rana and Mayank Markande have been blooded before. This time, Rahul Chahar has been the surprise standout spinner. With John Wright keeping an eye on domestic talents, scouting out the best of the second string, the franchise has always shown themselves to be ahead of the curve.
Critical has been a balance between roles and reputations, and foreign and local flavour. While players have been chopped and changed as per the needs of the side (for example, multiple players playing the role of the wicketkeeper opener), there has also been a faith shown in the core players, as well as a strong local flavour. The debut handed to Siddhesh Lad, who has been with the franchise for five years, is an example of this. And Pollard and Malinga have done enough for the franchise to qualify for honourary citizenship of the city. Rohit Sharma as captain brings a strong connect.
This season has been far from perfect; Mumbai might still be looking for the right third seamer. They started with the uncapped Rasik Salam, and are currently on Barinder Sran, but with Hardik’s all-round abilities in the side, this lacuna has been papered over. The Baroda all-rounder's big hitting has also covered up their tendency to slow down in the middle overs, and not use their big hitters as early as they could. Despite that, they have still finished in the top four with a game to spare, with a shot at the all-important top-two. And they go into the Playoffs as the only team to have beaten Chennai Super Kings twice.
The only surprise in the game was Rohit Sharma choosing to bat first, at a venue that has traditionally been hard to defend at. But there too, he showed an awareness of the differences between a venue and the pitch at that venue, with the dew affecting both sides just as much. MI valued runs on the board in a big game, giving us a clue as to their likely strategies heading into the knockout phase.
And so it was hardly surprising that Mumbai’s self-scouted, home-grown talent got them over the line, even if it took a Super Over. If Mumbai finish in the top two, they will play their first Playoff game in Chennai, where they enjoy a strong record and are perhaps the only team that can command real support at the Chepauk. With so many boxes ticked, don’t be surprised if they go all the way.