In the most thrilling fashion, defending IPL champions Mumbai Indians pulled off a coup against Rajasthan Royals and booked their place in the play-offs.
Only a week ago, Rajasthan were all set to finish 3rd in the points table and Mumbai were pondering where they went wrong as they found themselves at the wrong end of the table. After successes and failures of an entire season - stretching across 14 games and two countries, the fourth and final play-off spot was still up for grabs as Mumbai Indians and Rajasthan Royals squared off at the Wankhede in Mumbai. It was Rajasthan’s to lose; and boy! did they ever! The equation of 190 runs needed from 14.3 overs for MI, boiled down to a boundary needed off a solitary delivery to acquire a better net run-rate (NRR) and qualify for the play-offs. And with one mighty heave from Aditya Tare, MI did the seemingly impossible. And this win, in many ways summed up Mumbai’s season - one of resilience and resurgence.
After failing to register a single win from five games in the UAE leg of the season, the defending champions were looking deflated. But with six wins from their remaining eight games, coupled with teams around them dropping points, Mumbai have qualified. It’s been a roller-coaster season for Rohit Sharma and his team, who only started to play to their potential once the tournament came back to India. The past few games in particular have seen the players come into their own and shine.
Michael Hussey, who was misfiring for a good part of the season, seems to have found his touch. An unlikely hero who has played a central role in salvaging Mumbai’s season is West Indian Lendl Simmons, who’s swashbuckling innings’ powered MI to some crucial wins in the latter part of the season. Simmons has accumulated 327 runs from just 7 games, including the first century of this season’s IPL. This has coincided with Mumbai stringing together a run of good results. Rohit Sharma remained gritty in the face of adversity, both as a batsman and captain.
Ambati Rayudu has staked a serious claim to a spot in the national side with his performances this season. Along with scoring 359 runs at a healthy strike-rate, he has done a fair job of keeping wickets as well. Kieron Pollard has chipped in with crucial runs, though he hasn’t been at his flamboyant best. Corey Anderson has shown in spells, why he is such a highly rated young cricketing talent; and never more so than in that crucial last game against RR, smashing 95*(44).
The Mumbai bowling unit has been a mixed bag. Lasith Malinga was unsurprisingly, their leading wicket-taker with 16 scalps in just 10 games. But with the ‘slinger’ away on international duty, Mumbai needed other bowlers to step up. And the veteran Harbhajan Singh responded with a return of 12 wickets. Bhajji’s contribution with the ball was all the more important as the usually reliable Pragyan Ojha has been a major disappointment, picking up only 3 wickets from 11 games. Jasprit Bhumrah hasn’t run through opposition batting line-ups, but with his unorthodox bowling action has managed to bowl some decent spells at crunch times. Some above-average fielding has helped their cause as well.
It would be unfair to say that Mumbai don’t deserve a place in top four, particularly on the back of their performances in India. But one cannot deny the fact that they were given a major helping hand by other teams such as Sunrisers Hyderabad, Royal Challengers Bangalore and Rajasthan Royals themselves, who couldn’t get the job done when it mattered most. But with all said and done, the reigning champions will now hope to ride this wave of momentum into the Brabourne Stadium as they take on the resolute Chennai Super Kings in the Eliminator on May 28. And if they can channel this rich vein of form and translate it into performance on the field, they could well be on their way to defending their crown in Bengaluru on June 1.