Stable structure and youth key to Mumbai Indians' successful IPL campaign

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Winning has become a habit for Mumbai Indians [Sportzpics]

Remember the 2010 final of the Indian Premier League? You probably don’t, for the clutter of T20 matches from the past ten years of this tournament is too intense.

When the haze lifts though, you will recall a clash between Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings. It was a grudge match, which the Super Kings won and stamped their authority as this league’s alpha team.

Until that point, it was a rag-tag bunch of adventurous cricketers – Rajasthan Royals (2008) and Deccan Chargers (2009) – who had taken the honours in the first two years. Back then, the IPL was in its infancy, still searching for an identity. Teams and their support staff were oblivious to methodical approaches for T20 cricket.

IPL was all a big unknown in its first three-year cycle at least, and yet the quest for glory between these two franchises was already a heated rivalry. Boasting of two marquee players in Sachin Tendulkar and MS Dhoni, Mumbai versus Chennai gave an inkling of Manchester United versus Arsenal. Or, Ferrari versus McLaren, even Real Madrid versus Barcelona – it was the ego clash of any IPL season.

Mumbai had made a huge strategic error in that 2010 final, by sending out Abhishek Nayar and Harbhajan Singh ahead of Kieron Pollard and JP Duminy. Chennai won back-to-back titles in 2010 and 2011, and that set the cat amongst the pigeons.

As if to rectify this wrong, they boisterously began looking for options that would help them bridge this gap. Part of the plan was in adding more muscle to their squad: Tendulkar, Pollard, Lasith Malinga and Harbhajan Singh were retained. Rohit Sharma was bought for a hefty 2 million USD, and later John Wright came on board the coaching staff along with Anil Kumble and Jonty Rhodes.

The key change-about though came in captaincy. Tendulkar was partly responsible for that strategic error in 2010, and before the 2012 season began, he stepped down as captain. Harbhajan Singh led then, and in 2013, Ricky Ponting was the designated skipper. Halfway through that season, he stepped down owing to poor form, and Sharma took over the reins.

Since that particular baton changed hands, Mumbai Indians – under Sharma – have won three IPL titles in five seasons.

Any, and every, IPL franchise looks for a marquee player. Tendulkar was Mumbai’s since 2008, and he still continues to be their non-playing icon. But from the very beginning, there was no doubt that this team needed a dash of youth, akin to what Chennai had with the likes of Dhoni, Suresh Raina and R Ashwin, or Royal Challengers Bangalore with Virat Kohli.

For the first three IPL seasons, Sharma played that role for Deccan Chargers. He was their big hope for the future. But for the reset auctions in 2011, he could still have been playing for that same franchise, probably even leading Sunrisers Hyderabad instead of David Warner.

It was Mumbai’s flexing of their financial muscle that got him to change teams that season, a sound investment that kept future into focus. The end-result is actually staggering. Sharma now has three IPL titles as captain, one more than both Dhoni and Gautam Gambhir (Kolkata Knight Riders), and three more than Kohli.

Sharma, both as captain and leading batsman, provided the focal point around which a team could evolve, an element Mumbai were keenly missing in their initial years. Sample this: his tally of 333 runs in this 2017 season is the lowest accumulated for any particular season in ten years of IPL. Even when not making a crucial impact with the bat, Sharma was steady in providing leadership.

Gradually then, this stability allowed the team management to focus on other angles. Herein, Mumbai followed the Chennai example to the hilt – stable leadership, a couple of high-impact players, and a consistent core of players. With Sharma as captain, Malinga and Pollard providing the impact, Mumbai allowed youngsters – Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik and Krunal Pandya, and Nitish Rana – to make their marks and prosper.

“Individual brilliance can win you a few games but team unity and team work are both required to win. These are factors which I believe are very critical to winning a championship like this,” said Sharma, after Mumbai stole a jailbreak IPL-winning one-run victory over Rising Pune Supergiant in the final.

It reveals the flavour – and fervour – of the Mumbai camp this season. Through his travails on the international scene, Sharma is now ranked as a seasoned pro. It has fashioned this admirable quality in him to step back in a moment of heightened glory, and shine the spotlight bright on those aforementioned names.

Rana (333 runs in 13 matches inclusive of three half-centuries at a strike-rate of 126.13) got the impact runs, the Pandya brothers were electric with both bat and ball (243 runs and 10 wickets in 13 matches for Krunal; 250 runs and six wickets in 17 matches for Hardik), and in the years to come, Bumrah (20 wickets in 16 matches at an economy rate of 7.35) will ably – and easily – replace Malinga.

Two matches stand out herein – first, against Delhi Daredevils at the Wankhede (on April 22), when they defended a sub-par total of 142, and the second against Gujarat Lions in Rajkot (on April 29), when they clawed back to tie the game and won the Super Over. The former was a turning point for it allowed this Mumbai side to realise its dominant nature. The latter was simply an affirmation of their superiority this season.

Mumbai’s prowess, thus, was an amalgamation of their stable structure and youth, churning out a consistent outcome week after week. So much so, they came back from the brink, turned around the season, and won it in electric style, one that few thought imaginable after putting out a target of only 130 in the final.

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