IPL 2017: Mumbai Indians' record third title a fruit of their all-round brilliance and self belief
Mumbai Indians dispelled a few stereotypes, such as that of being slow starters, while dishing out a set of consistent performances to lift the trophy for a third time.
"Amazing! It was simply amazing. I always believed in the phrase Once a champion, always a champion" — Sachin Tendulkar.
"To be honest, I was quite nervous but guys pulled off a great game" — Rohit Sharma.
Simple, yet words of note. Words that summed up an emotionally-charged Mumbai Indians (MI) dugout on a pleasant Sunday evening at Hyderabad's Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, where they squared off against Rising Pune Supergiant (RPS) for the fourth time in the 10th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL). For once, MI managed to break their hoodoo against their neighbours.
The summit clash, epic as it turned out to be, was in a way symbolic of Mumbai's successful campaign this season — most of their wins were the result of the brilliance of an individual or two helping the side huff and puff across the finish line. Even though Mumbai finished the group stage on top of the table with 20 points, they were not quite the favourites heading into the final. In their brief history with RPS before this tournament, Mumbai were soundly thrashed by the newcomers in the opening game of last year's edition, though the former bounced back in the second meeting with Pune.
RPS though, seemed to have Mumbai's number this year, as they triumphed in each of the three meetings across the tournament, including a seven-wicket win in their opening game. Getting rid of a mental block isn't exactly child's play — ask Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) about their record against Mumbai, or South Africa their history in crucial World Cup matches for that matter.
While Rohit made the right choice of batting first on a Hyderabad pitch that had deteriorated in recent games, his side looked listless once again in the face of a brilliant performance by their opponents both with the ball as well as on the field. Having lost their seventh wicket with just 79 on board, the script seemed to be following a familiar pattern.
Krunal Pandya reaffirmed his value to the Mumbai franchise with a crucial 47 that added 50 for the eighth wicket, and gave the Mumbai bowlers something to defend. Jasprit Bumrah proved his worth as a multi-dimensional bowler by getting the early wicket of Rahul Tripathi. There was some hope for Mumbai. Pune however, batted solidly thereafter, with the likes of Ajinkya Rahane, skipper Steve Smith and MS Dhoni taking no risks thereafter as the side were in the driver's seat at 98/2. The only bit of trouble was their slow run-rate, which would have translated into trouble for them with the fall of a wicket or two.
That the Mumbai pace trio of Bumrah, Lasith Malinga and Mitchell Johnson turned the game on its head with a set of brilliant overs to record a nail-biting one-run win speaks volumes of Mumbai's self-belief even in the darkest of situations. Nearly every member of their core group had some say or the other throughout the tournament, and in this case, it was their pace trio which hogged the limelight in the biggest game of them all.
Mumbai were equally clinical in their comeback after losing their opening game to Pune by seven wickets. Over the course of the 10 wins out of the 14 group matches, that propelled them right to the top of the table, heroes emerged from the ranks one game after another. Whether it was Kieron Pollard's match-winning 70 against Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), Jos Buttler's whirlwind innings against Kings XI Punjab (KXIP), young Nitish Rana's set of half-centuries early in the tournament or Bumrah's magnificent display in the super over against Gujarat Lions to tame the likes of Brendon McCullum and Aaron Finch.
For all the talk of MI being slow starters in a tournament (remember how they lost five of their first six games in 2015, and still won the tournament) they propelled themselves to the top of the table after the first set of games, and managed to hold on to it despite some stiff competition from KKR. The eventual champions did stutter towards the end, getting walloped by Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) in the latter's turf, and losing a high-scoring contest against KXIP by a whisker at the Wankhede. They suddenly appeared to be losing track when they outplayed by Pune for the third time, with this occasion being Qualifier 1.
Heading into Qualifier 2 on the back of a few losses, Mumbai appeared a tad vulnerable against KKR, even if they beat Gautam Gambhir and company twice in the group stage. Mumbai however, showed astuteness in reading the conditions, as they opted to field, and bowlers made full use of the favourable conditions to skittle KKR out for a paltry 107, which was later chased down with six wickets to spare. A win of this magnitude at this stage of the tournament was necessary in getting the team's confidence back, something which reflected in their win in the next game as they held on to their nerves till the very last ball of the match to become the most successful team in the history of the competition with a third title.
To sum their performance up this season, Mumbai can afford a comparison with something akin to a machine with robust functioning — if one part stopped functioning, the others would make up for it in order to keep the whole unit running on full power. It is this trait of theirs, along with the emergence of future legends such as Jasprit Bumrah, the Pandya brothers and Nitish Rana, that has helped contribute towards the consistency that the team boasts of. One certainly hopes Rohit and Co will keep the show going in the years to come. Let's see how the side defends the title next year, with old foes Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Rajasthan Royals (RR) returning to the fold.
Rohit Sharma led from the front as he scored 46 not out while chasing 91-run target in a rain-truncated match that allowed eight overs-a-side match.
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