Reward at last for moneyed Mumbai?
Rajasthan Royals have traditionally drawn much sympathy from IPL watchers, and their captain constantly reminded everyone this year of how they are a "moneyball" side, how under-resourced they are in terms of personnel and yet punch above their weight each time. Mumbai Indians are a popular side, too, but for reasons totally different. They are a side filled with big stars, and have a line-up that cannot have too many excuses to stop short of winning the title.
The hunger to win remains, not just evident in the team's improved performance this year that's taken them to the final for the second time, but also tweaks made to their squad through the seasons, the management compensating for any weaknesses that surface with high-profile purchases, be in the auctions or in between seasons, of players that have caught the eye. And the franchise's monetary power has played a significant role in ensuring Mumbai have got what they want.
Kieron Pollard blasted his way to an IPL contract when he smashed an unbeaten 54 off 18 balls for Trinidad and Tobago against New South Wales in 2009, and Mumbai fought hard in the subsequent auctions to buy him. He fetched the maximum bid of US$750,000 before Mumbai bagged him in the secret tie-break, beating Chennai Super Kings, Kolkata Knight Riders and Royal Challengers Bangalore by paying an undisclosed amount. He was one of four players retained by them after the 2010 season, and is now a key part of the middle order.
Though he's not been as effective in the second half of this season with the bat, Dinesh Karthik was an important transfer ahead of last year's IPL during the transfer window. Ambati Rayudu, who remained in the Mumbai side, had kept wickets before him, but the need for a specialist wicket-keeper batsman prompted the franchise to shell out an undisclosed amount that may well have been among the most paid for a player in the transfer window. He had been bought for US$900,000 by Kings XI Punjab, a team that had a specialist wicketkeeper-batsman as their captain.
In the bowling, Mumbai bought Pragyan Ojha during the transfer window to bowl in tandem with Harbhajan Singh, and Ali Murtaza went to Pune Warriors. And in the auction, they bid US$600,000 for RP Singh. RP, until then, had been the leading wicket-taker in the IPL, and Ojha was not far behind him, in fourth place. Three of the leading five bowlers in IPL were with Mumbai at the start of the 2012 season.
Last year, Mumbai tried as many as nine opening combinations. One of those openers was Richard Levi, who went unsold in the auctions in February but was snapped by Mumbai, who beat Pune Warriors to sign him, almost immediately after he smashed 13 sixes in a T20 century against New Zealand. Davy Jacobs was another opener, bought by Mumbai after he made 286 runs in six innings in the Champions League the previous year.
Dwayne Smith hadn't played for West Indies in the longer formats for a while when he was signed up by Mumbai last year, but a quickfire half-century against Australia in a T20 international and a successful stint with Khulna Royal Bengals in the Bangladesh Premier League won him a call-up. This, after he went unsold in the auction. And he's been an important player for them at the top of the order this year.
Pollard, Smith, Karthik and, to a lesser extent, Ojha have had a role to play in their team's march to the final this season, their presence in the team a product of some opportunistic, and occasionally aggressive, buying. An ideal culmination to this process for Mumbai would be a title victory, slightly belated you would think for one of he most powerful franchises in the tournament.
Siddhartha Talya is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo