Mumbai Indians know how to win. It sounds like a simple and obvious statement, but it is one that defines the five-time IPL champions. Against Kolkata Knight Riders on Tuesday, they once again showed why winning culture is equally important as prominent skills set.
Batting first on a slow turning pitch in Chennai, the top order had laid the ideal platform, but the middle and lower order failed. Mumbai scrambled to 152, a score that was clearly 20 runs short of a par score. None of their primary power hitters – Kieron Pollard, Hardik Pandya, and Ishan Kishan fired. This was the second consecutive match that Mumbai’s strong suit had failed. The team and the coaching staff had every right to be disappointed. Kolkata were in the box seat.
Rohit Sharma, the skipper, then had to watch all his bowlers get whacked around the park as KKR openers hammered 72 runs in nine overs. Doubts would have crept in terms of strategy and gameplan. Earlier, KKR had employed spinners in the first 10 overs, while Mumbai had stuck to their fast bowlers. But Mumbai are a team that believes in their match-ups, data, strategy, and key decision-makers on the field.
Based on the experience with the bat, the team would have known chasing 50 runs in the last six overs was going to be a tough ask. So Rohit Sharma introduced leg-spinner Rahul Chahar in the eighth over. Chahar had a tough previous match against the Royal Challengers Bangalore and Rohit was conscious of the bowler not wanting to try too hard or be desperate. KKR were cruising in the ninth over and saw Chahar as the weak link. After hitting him for a couple of boundaries, Shubman Gill succumbed to yet another flighted delivery from Chahar.
The ball was starting to stop and spin. KKR were miles ahead of the game. But the conditions were starting to play exactly how Mumbai expected them in the latter stages of the game. Rohit knew if Mumbai had to win, they had to take wickets. A slip was placed for Chahar, and Bumrah was introduced into the attack to stem the flow of runs. The presence of two left-handers, Nitish Rana and Shakib Al Hasan, even prompted Rohit to bowl his off-spinners. This was out of the box thinking by the skipper. It was a sign that the winning culture of Mumbai was starting to surface.
Suddenly, Chahar was a confident man. One could sense that he has seen an opportunity. He started to flight the ball more and his line became more attacking – almost demanding the batsman to try and loft him out of the park. Eoin Morgan and Rana tried, but ended up going back to the pavilion.
Perhaps no player exudes that winning confidence or belief more than Krunal Pandya. Needing 23 from three overs, Andre Russell knew Krunal will fire it in, but the variation and the slowness of the pitch made it difficult for the Jamaican to slog. This might have looked like a gamble, but Mumbai knew how difficult it was going to be in the last few overs against a spinner. Three times Russell missed the slog sweep and Krunal only ended up conceding three runs.
Needing 19 runs from 12 balls with one over from Jasprit Bumrah, Mumbai were in their comfort zone. They have won countless matches from such scenarios. It was now all about execution, a trait Mumbai Indians have mastered better than any franchise in the death overs. Bumrah bowled an ideal penultimate over and Boult was equally brilliant in the last over. Incredibly, Mumbai won by 10 runs.
Trent Boult summed up the Mumbai mentality the best. "It shows the importance of staying in the game. It's never easy to start on wickets like these and we knew it's going to be tricky and nice to get a couple of wickets in the end," he told the host broadcaster.
The best sportsmen and teams are judged on how well they perform under pressure. Mumbai played like a team that just knows how to win. It is a trait that takes a while to build and with five IPL trophies under their belt, that winning culture is now part of each and every player's DNA.
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