Mumbai Indians legend grows with a record third title

Mumbai Indians have reigned supreme yet again. Five years, three championships. Following the trend of winning the IPL title every alternate year that began in 2013, MI became the only team to lift the trophy a record three times, overtaking Chennai Super Kings and Kolkata Knight Riders’ tally of two each. So what worked for them? Well, simply put: Everything. Their batting was extremely productive – every batsman till No. 7 scored at least one half-century each and it was backed by some terrific bowling at all stages: the beginning, middle and slog overs.

Even MI’s bench strength came to the fore when required. Ambati Rayudu struck a fifty in the very first match he played the season and Karn Sharma’s impact was such that the management found had no space for their most experienced bowler in Playoff, Harbhajan Singh. Combine all that and what you have in front of you is a champion side, one that maintained consistency throughout the tournament and fittingly, emerged victorious. It was also the first time since 2008 that a team finishing first in the Points Table lifted the trophy.

High point

Following the defeat against Rising Pune Super giant, MI regrouped to win their next six matches. And in that while, not a single base went uncovered. Against Kolkata Knight Riders, an exuberant Hardik Pandya and uncapped Nitish Rana – scoring a 29-ball 50 – pulled off a stunning chase of 179. From 130/5 in 17 overs, they put on a 49-run stand to win the match with one ball to spare. Then against Royal Challengers Bangalore, with Mumbai at 7/3 and with all doors possibly shut on them, Kieron Pollard produced a matured knock of 70 and saw the team through. Rana went on to score two more half-centuries, both turning out to be match-winning ones, against Gujarat Lions and Kings XI Punjab. Mumbai faltered a bit towards the business end of the league stage, but the impact of their first-half was such that they mostly had a grip of the top spot in the standings and finished the round-robin stage as the No. 1 side. Also, outside of the six-match winning streak, they skittled the Delhi Daredevils for 66 to register the biggest win in terms of runs – 146.

Low point

Considering they went on to win the title, there isn’t much to pick really, barring the fact that despite their terrific run, the one team they couldn’t crack was the Rising Pune Super giant, losing to them twice in the league stage, and then again in the first Qualifier. Then again, perhaps MI saved it for the game that meant the most, the all-important final. Also, conceding 230 against Kings XI Punjab was an eye-opener right ahead of the Playoffs.

Captaincy verdict

Rohit Sharma became the only skipper to win three IPL titles with the same side, making him the most successful IPL captain so far. Rohit backed his bowlers, irrespective of how small the target was, to get it done. And they got it done. He read the surface well and fancied chasing, and the results were impressive. He trusted Rana and Rayudu to bat ahead of him and even that gamble paid off. Rohit’s decision to drop Harbhajan might not have been the most popular but Karn’s 4/16 in Qualifier 2 was another call aced.

Most valuable player

This was the year of Jasprit Bumrah taking over the mantle of being MI’s strike bowler from Lasith Malinga. Everytime MI leaked runs, Rohit would turn to his No.1 bowler to contain them, and Bumrah stood true to his captain’s faith. He picked up 20 wickets at a strike rate of 18.10 and an economy below eight. More importantly, what raised Bumrah’s stocks was the kind of impact his performances had. He was entrusted the responsibility of bowling the Super Over against the Gujarat Lions, and he defended 11 runs. Then, in one of the more crunch games of the tournament, Qualifier 2 against the Kolkata Knight Riders, Bumrah registered career-best, astonishing figures of 3/7 from four overs snuffing the life out of KKR’s batting. Come the final, with Supergiant needing 33 off 24, Bumrah sent back MS Dhoni in the 17th over and conceded just 14 in his last two overs. There were some terrific individual performances for MI, from Pollard to Rana to Mitchell McClenaghan and to even Krunal Pandya, but none as consistent and impactful as Bumrah.

Major disappointment

But while his captaincy remained top notch, his form with the bat was far from what he’d have liked to. With 333 runs in 17 matches, this was Rohit’s worst year across all ten seasons. He had three half-centuries but two of them went in vain, one in which Rohit failed to see MI through against the Supergiant.