Mumbai Indians 2013 review May 27, 2013

Underachievers no longer

Fancied Mumbai Indians took six seasons to finally get the monkey off their back when they were crowned IPL champions on Sunday

Where they finished
Six seasons into the league they were supposed to win from the start, they finally won the damn thing on Sunday against Chennai Super Kings. This was the season Mumbai Indians finally made the transition from being a collection of superstars that always failed on the big night, to a champion side that absorbed pressure and overcame it. The tag of "The Best Side Never To Win The IPL" that had attached itself to them was finally shaken off. What Mumbai Indians did in the league stage didn't matter, for when it came to the playoffs, you knew what would happen. An opposition such as Chennai Super Kings would apply pressure, and invariably Mumbai would cave in.

Pressure was indeed applied, but it was Super Kings who did the folding in the final. Whether Mumbai would make the playoffs or not was never in doubt. They have been giving themselves a shot at the title since 2010. Again, they came up short against Super Kings in the first qualifier, and crumbled meekly. Deja vu. Told you so. Here we go again.

Both in the second qualifier against Rajasthan Royals and the final, Mumbai were up against six seasons of underachievement, which in their case meant anything less than winning the trophy, as Rahul Dravid put it. Both times, their powerful batting wobbled, and both times, it refreshingly held up. It took them six seasons to finally get the monkey off their back.

What went right
Persisting with players and combinations has not always come easily to Mumbai in the past. They played five specialist bowlers almost through the season, barring a couple of games. While the fifth bowler proved expensive at times, Mitchell Johnson and Harbhajan Singh, who largely abandoned the leg-side darts, had outstanding seasons.

Lasith Malinga was taken apart in the first two playoff matches, but that opening over in the final - the inswinging yorker and bouncer - was match-winning stuff. He'd been used as a change and death bowler through the season, and Rohit Sharma and the team management have to be credited for going a different direction in the final, whether or not it was the presence of MS Dhoni down the order that dictated the move.

Five bowlers meant only six batsmen. Once Mumbai realised Ricky Ponting was not clicking, they stuck with Rohit as captain and Dwayne Smith as the opener. Rohit and Dinesh Karthik had a superb league stage, and when they failed in the playoffs, Kieron Pollard and Smith stepped in. These four made up for average seasons for the other two, Sachin Tendulkar and Ambati Rayudu. Rayudu redeemed himself somewhat with invaluable support to Pollard in the final.

What went wrong

Pondulkar. Only garnered eyeballs, not results.

Best player
This was an attack too reliant on Malinga in the past. Mitchell Johnson came in and bowled with so much fire that Malinga wasn't required at the start of the innings. Johnson nearly always picked up wickets with the new ball, and his spell that softened up Chris Gayle in Mumbai was quality fast bowling. Johnson can be a double-edged sword, though, and needs careful handling. Which is where the presence of Ponting helped, as Johnson himself admitted.

Only six batsmen ensured Kieron Pollard was not wasted, something Mumbai have been guilty of so often, including in the 2010 IPL final, when he was held back till he was rendered ineffectual at No. 8. This was the first IPL season he didn't bat lower than No. 6. That is probably also why it was his best season, nearly 150 runs more than second-best. He came in at 52 for 4 in the final, and responded with 60 off 32 despite being largely off strike at the death. He got to face the last two balls of the innings and hit them both for sixes. Twenty20 gold.

Poor performer
Ricky Ponting never got going in the six games he gave himself. An average of 10.40 and a strike-rate of 69.33 say it all.

Surprise package
More than the man, the surprise was in the approach. He actually flighted the ball, which dipped, turned and bounced. There were quick topspinners, there was the occasional doosra. There were 24 wickets at 6.51 an over. He quelled a strong Royals start in the second qualifier. This was Harbhajan Singh from another era, and he had his best IPL season by some distance.

Recommended for retention
They would wish they could retain some more, but assuming a limit of four, Lasith Malinga, Kieron Pollard, Rohit Sharma, Dinesh Karthik.

Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo