Rohit Sharma was the last man to join the final Mumbai Indians huddle for this year. Hands on his hips, he shook his head in disbelief even as the entire team raced towards Mitchell Johnson. When he did get there, he walked as if in a daze and into the chaos that awaited. The Mumbai skipper then was lost in a celebration worthy of champions.
Mumbai won their third Indian Premier League title at the Rajiv Gandhi International stadium in Uppal on Sunday (May 21), and this victory could well be their finest.
Not because this win makes them the most successful team in IPL history with three crowns to their name, but because they looked out of the running for nearly two hours against a professional Rising Pune Supergiant before staging a comeback of epic proportions.
They may have been outdone in all three departments, but they weren’t going let lack of heart be the cause for their defeat. They fought with the spirit of a cornered animal and brought in an element of calm when it was needed to prove that a champion is because of what a champion does when reputation is on the line.
That reputation took a hit in the first half of the contest when they were restricted to a mere 129 for 8 after opting to bat, but it grew into a legend by time Johnson was through with the 40th over of the match.
Against all odds, Mumbai kept Pune down to 128 for 6 to win by one run.
How Pune botched this opportunity to win their first, and possibly only, title is beyond comprehension. When the equation was down to 47 needed from 30 balls with MS Dhoni and Steven Smith out there, everyone would have expected a fairly straightforward finish. Even against the likes of Jasprit Bumrah, Lasith Malinga and Johnson.
When Dhoni nicked Bumrah to Parthiv Patel, the wicketkeeper, the tension was palpable, but Smith was around and it was still looking alright.
Then came a seven-run over from Malinga. That added a few creases to the foreheads of those in the Pune dressing room. Smith, bashful in approach, creamed a six off Bumrah’s fourth over to bring it down to 11 from the final over. Easy, right? Wrong.
Manoj Tiwary holed out to Kieron Pollard at long-on, and then came the biggest hit of all. Smith looked to hit a length ball from Johnson over extra0cover. The bat turned in his hands and he hit it right to Ambati Rayudu at sweeper cover. Washington Sundar and Dan Christian did what they could, but could not get their team over the finish line.
Mumbai finally got Pune’s number this season on the fourth attempt, and it came when it mattered most, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t make their share of mistakes.
Mumbai’s biggest mistake of the day could well have been to bat first after winning the toss. Rohit pronounced the wicket was batsman-friendly with a broad smile at the toss. That smile would’ve faded under his helmet as he waited in the dressing room for his turn while the rest were feeling the force of immaculate accuracy on a slowish pitch.
Jaydev Unadkat (2 for 19) and Washington were the ones chosen to have first crack at Mumbai’s openers, and what a show they put on. Unadkat kept varying the pace of his off-cutter to offset the opening pair. Washington kept firing the ball in with varying lengths to not let the batsmen settle in.
The reward for such consistency was the scalp of Parthiv as he pulled an awkward bouncer from Unadkat straight to Thakur at mid-on.
The Unadkat catch to dismiss Lendl Simmons in the same over will probably go down as one of the finest catches in IPL history. Unadkat had laid the base, but the work was far from done.
Mumbai’s next line of defence was the Rayudu-Rohit alliance. The 33-run third-wicket stance alleviated some of the concern which had built up during the Power Play.
Just when things were beginning to look up, Rayudu ran himself out silly. It needed a fantastic piece of fielding from Smith at mid-off, but the fact Rayudu called for the run and was barely in the frame when the stumps were clattered says everything about his state of mind.
Although losing Rayudu at this stage was critical, it didn’t necessarily mean the end of Mumbai’s hopes of a decent total. That came when Rohit rocked back to a short ball from Adam Zampa and pulled it to Thakur at deep square-leg.
Krunal Pandya made it a bit more bearable for Mumbai as he settled into his innings with caution before unleashing a few telling blows. Johnson’s 13 not out was crucial to Krunal’s 38-ball 47 as the duo added 37 runs in the last three overs.
Who would’ve thought that innings from Krunal would make all the difference on a day like this.