There was desperation in Parthiv Patel’s voice as he appealed for an lbw after Mahendra Singh Dhoni was struck on his pads by Karn Sharma. Dhoni had stepped down the track a fair bit, and though the appeal was loud, it was mostly Parthiv doing the shouting. Ball-tracking suggested it would miss the stumps, but that appeal, bordering on begging, signalled the hunger and desperation that propelled Mumbai Indians’ to their third Indian Premier League title on Sunday (May 21).
It was a win very much in contrast to the two previous finals won by Mumbai. In 2013, Kieron Pollard scored an unbeaten 32-ball 60 and returned 1 for 34 to hand Mumbai a 23-run win over Chennai Super Kings. In 2015, when the two sides clashed again, half-centuries from Lendl Simmons and Rohit Sharma ensured Mumbai posted 202 – a figure that Chennai fell short of by 41 runs. On both occasions, victory was sealed long before the final ball was sent down. What made their latest triumph special was the fact that it was a different sort of victory, one that showed the side had other qualities, that their collective strength was greater than the individuals, that they just wouldn’t give up no matter how bleak the outcome.
Rising Pune Supergiant were favourites to win this clash the minute they reduced Mumbai to 79 for 7. Everything Steven Smith tried in the first innings – field placements, bowling changes – paid off. Runs were hard to come by for Mumbai, and it seemed very liked that they wouldn’t even cross the 100-run mark. All they could do at that point was to make the best of the situation. Krunal Pandya, batting with the tail, slowly picked the ones and twos before shifting gears and targeting Dan Christian in the death – he added an important 50 with Mitchell Johnson for the eighth wicket, scoring an imperative 38-ball 47.
Krunal’s knock gave Mumbai a foothold, but the total was still well below par. And though the dangerous Rahul Tripathi was sent back early, Ajinkya Rahane found form and carried Pune, along with Smith. Mumbai seemed nervous as well. There were plenty of fluffed attempts in the field, none more stark than Krunal’s drop off Rahane when the batsman was on just 14 – he went on to score a 38-ball 44. Pune, meanwhile, had decided it was imperative to keep wickets intact while chasing a low total. They ticked along, not allowing the target to get too big, but Mumbai didn’t mind too much: The longer Pune delayed the big hits, the more pressure they would be under as the match progressed.
With five overs to go, and Pune needing 47 runs more, the second time-out was taken. Rohit gathered his men in a huddle, and told them the plan. It was simple: Jasprit Bumrah and Lasith Malinga would send in the yorkers, denying Pune the scoring opportunities and the release they so desperately needed. His pep-talk helped channel the hunger of his teammates – Hardik Pandya’s motivational bellows as the huddle dispersed indicated as much.
Bumrah and Malinga had a combined three overs, leaving an over each for Krunal and Mitchell Johnson. Pune, unsurprisingly, targeted Krunal in the 16th and claimed 14 runs off it, but the chase was still tricky. Bumrah and Malinga did exceptionally well not to give away too many runs – Bumrah even had the dangerous Mahendra Singh Dhoni caught behind. However, Smith managed to get one over the fence off Bumrah’s 19th over, meaning Johnson had 11 runs to defend in the final over.
The pressure was all on him – a retired, 35-year-old Australian whose best years had long past – and when he was pulled for four off his first ball, it seemed he wasn’t up to the task. However, the veteran showed he still had it. He got consecutive wickets, with both Manoj Tiwary and Smith holing out, and then kept his nerve in the three remaining balls, conceding just five runs while Pune needed seven. And just like that, Mumbai had pulled off a remarkable feat, and perhaps the most enjoyable of their three titles.
Afterwards, Rohit was unrestrained in his praise for Johnson. “Mitchell McClenaghan, who was playing well for us, was injured and unfortunately he couldn’t find a place in the finals, but we always knew we had a great backup in Johnson, who is again a proven customer,” said the captain. “He has done it for Australia and Mumbai as well. He has been in this atmosphere as well. I could happily rely on him when I needed him the most. The last over was very crucial. Steven Smith was set, batting really well. So is Dan Christian, he has played against him on many occasions.”
Rohit also made it a point to praise Mumbai’s teamwork and spirit this time around – it was a season out of the ordinary. “Individual brilliance can win you a few games, but what is required to win this championship is team unity, team work and intelligence,” he said. “We spoke about it at the start of the tournament. If you look at the first two titles we won, we probably had one batsman in the top five (leading run-getters). We didn’t have (even) one batsman in the top-five this time which is a little bit sad, but that goes to show that different individuals have come up at different times and taken up responsibility. That is the hallmark of this team, especially this year.
“We’ve never relied on one individual to win us the game. Today was the perfect example. The bowling unit came in together. Again, we have got a few youngsters, a few inexperienced players and a few legends in our bowling unit. It was a combination of both, and we gelled quite nicely. We mixed it up nicely.”
Mumbai were far from their best, but many things paid off for them on Sunday night: team work, spirit, and the compulsive need to win. That desperation allowed them to hang in the tie when lesser teams would have given up hope. It is what champion teams do. And it won them a third title, a unique one.