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Cricket news - Mumbai Indians' smooth sailing to the title

They won four of their first six matches this season without even playing their best cricket.

The journey of Mumbai Indians in 2019 Indian Premier League (IPL) was not a usual one. There were no roads bumps, as they smoothly sailed to the title. Rohit Sharma's side are generally considered slow-starters before peaking in the latter half of the tournament, but that was not the case this season. They won four of their first six matches without even playing their best cricket and like Rohit said after the win that splitting the tournament into two halves made them plan better and with that start they had won the first part.

The second part was to qualify as one of the top two teams so that they have a double crack at going through to the final. They won five of the last eight league games and qualified as the top team. Once you enter the playoffs you need to be brave enough to go all the way and that's where Rohit's captaincy came into the picture. He plotted smartly and used his players correctly to defeat Chennai in their own den and repeated the same in the final. His leadership brought a sense of calmness in the toughest of situations which in return allowed the players to execute their plans.

The other major improvement this year was the number of times different players put their hands up for Mumbai. They won 11 games and had seven different Man-of-the-Match awardees, out of which their top run-getter Quinton de Kock never won even one. That shows backing the core group and trusting certain individuals with responsibilities is what makes Mumbai the most successful team in the league.

What worked for them?

Hardik Pandya's coming of age and unearthing Rahul Chahar

The 2019 IPL saw the coming of age of Hardik Pandya. The all-rounder had shown glimpses of his prowess in the previous seasons, but he was in a different zone this year. He bailed Mumbai out on numerous occasions with his small cameos and still maintained a strike-rate close to 200. The trigger movement to go deep in the crease and then to use his wrists to helicopter sixes over cow corner were all well planned out.

But the one thing that stood out was the consistency with which Hardik was able to hit the ball. He was only behind Andre Russell in terms of strike-rate and when they faced off against each other in an intense encounter at Eden Gardens, it was Pandya who outmuscled Russell. The Jamaican scored an unbeaten 40-ball 80 and the Indian all-rounder replied back with a 34-ball 91. He almost single-handedly took Mumbai to the target of 233. Pandya, having scored 402 runs and picked up 14 wickets, came second in the most valuable player (MVP) list, behind Russell.

*****

It is never easy being a spinner when you know half the games are going to be played on flat Wankhede surfaces. And even more difficult when you replace last year's find - Mayank Markande. But Rahul Chahar seemed unfazed by the conditions or situation. He took to the Mumbai team like a fish to water and he has to thank Sachin Tendulkar, who spotted the 20-year-old's talent even when he was only on the sidelines for the whole of last year.

"Rahul Chahar stands out - I shared my opinion before he played his first game and I thought he was fabulous. Sixth to the 15th over he bowled with a slip there and that was some real quality bowling in a crucial match," Tendulkar said after the final. Chahar picked up 13 wickets at an economy of 6.55 - best of all the Mumbai bowlers.

What pulled them back?

In a championship winning season it is difficult to pick a flaw as Mumbai had almost every base covered and they utilized their resources intelligently. Rohit and the team managements ability to read the conditions and opposition ensured they played horses for courses and that is where a glitch was found. Whenever they wanted to play an extra pacer along with a foreign batsman/all-rounder the composition didn't work. Rasikh Salam played only one game, while Barinder Sran was unimpressive in his two outings.

At different points in time Jason Behrendorff, Mitchell McClenaghan and Alzarri Joseph stepped up, but it was quite evident that the burden of the bowling department was on Jasprit Bumrah, Lasith Malinga and Chahar. The Pandya brothers did a good job of filling up the overs but with plenty of batting depth Mumbai could have afforded another gun bowler.

What did they sorely miss?

A No.4 batsman

Similar to India's problem. When Rohit decided to open the innings, he left a big hole in that middle order. Yuvraj Singh was chosen over Ishan Kishan at the start to do the job but he faded away as the tournament progressed. Suryakumar also batted at that position when Evin Lewis played, Pollard also played there for a game before Kishan was roped back in.

Without a proper number four, the rest of the batsmen were batting out of position. Suryakumar is more suited in the top three and so is Kishan. Pollard and Pandya brothers make a lethal trio at 5, 6 and 7. Mumbai lost the most number of wickets in the middle phase of the innings and that is because there was no one who could bridge the gap between the top order and lower middle order.

Signing of the season

Quinton de Kock

The South African wicketkeeper was traded from Royal Challengers Bangalore before the auction. After Mustafizur Rahman pulled out, Mumbai Indians had the opportunity to sign a foreign player and they decided to strengthen their batting. Even though Evin Lewis had done well the previous year, signing de Kock was a masterstroke. The 'keeper was in top gear before the IPL and he just carried on that form - scoring 529 runs and ending the season as the third highest run-getter.

Malinga missed the last season due to various reasons. He was not fit, Mumbai did not think he had the vigour to compete in a competition like the IPL and hence gave him a role in the team management. However, the Sri Lanka veteran was back to his wily best for his national team and Mumbai noticed that, so when his name came up in the 2019 auction, they bought him for his base price - INR 2 crore. As it turned out, it paid off, with him complementing Bumrah as they formed a formidable death bowling pair - winning matches and titles together.

What's on highlights reel?

Fourth IPL title

There was plenty riding on the 2019 IPL final. Both Chennai and Mumbai had won the title thrice. Now one of them was going to break away from the other. Chennai had not beaten Mumbai throughout the season in their previous three meetings. Rohit had not lost an IPL final. There was also the case of Mumbai winning it in odd years. So, with all these in the background, the two teams set about chasing the premier T20 trophy.

The game ebbed and flowed from one team to another and like Dhoni said, "The team that made one lesser mistake won." That one less mistake was Malinga nailing his slow dipping yorker on the last ball of the game and trapping Shardul Thakur LBW. That inch perfect delivery can be played on a loop as it couldn't have been executed any better.

On a scale of 1 to 10...

Auction and retention strategy - 8/10

Most believe that half the battle is won in the IPL at the auction and player retention. Mumbai had built a nice core last year. They did not want to break that and only filled the gaps that were needed like an extra wicketkeeper-batsman - de Kock. Since Rohit was going to open, they needed a middle order batsman and that's where Yuvraj came in. Malinga added more tooth to the bowling attack, while the rest were back-up players in case someone from the starting XI was not having a good season.

Batting output - 8/10

It was a collective batting effort for Mumbai in this edition. Yes, de Kock scored over 500 runs, but there were three other batsmen - Suryakumar (424), Rohit (405) and Hardik (402) - who aggregated in excess of 400. Pollard and Krunal also chipped in whenever needed. So what it did was, it did not put pressure on Rohit the batsman. Unlike other teams who relied on a couple of batsmen to do bulk of the scoring, Mumbai had plenty of options and each one put their hand up at different stages of the tournament.

Bowling prowess - 8/10

The bowling depended on Bumrah, Malinga and Chahar. The trio shared 48 wickets between them with Bumrah being the top wicket-taker with 19. Hardik and Krunal also did a pretty good job with the ball - scalping 26 wickets together. However, like their batting Mumbai did not have to rely on one or two bowlers to get the job done. Even a replacement like Alzarri Joseph won them a game by recording the best IPL figures, while McClenaghan, played sparingly, was very economical in the final against Chennai.

Overall performance - 9/10

Mumbai almost had a near-perfect season. All the members of their starting XI contributed at one point of time or another and even the ones who were in and out of the side contributed to the title-winning campaign. Their planning and execution at various stages of the tournament was top notch.

Is 2019 an improvement on 2018?

Oh absolutely. Mumbai finished fifth in 2018 and lost out on a playoff spot on the last day of the league phase when they messed up chasing 174 against Delhi. There were no such situations this time. They made their way to the playoffs as the top team and were the first to qualify for the final. By beating Chennai in the final, they became the most successful team, going past Chennai's three titles and they also ensured the Arithmetic progression was intact - champions in 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019.

What next then?

They need to find a bit more consistency. Winning the league every alternate year looks pretty good but they have also failed to qualify for the playoffs twice in the last four years. So, they have to find a balance where they are able to finish in the playoffs every season and having the same group of players should help them find that. They also have to make sure that all the cracks are sealed and there is no room for weakness when they take the field next season.

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