Mumbai toppled by lopsided squad
Where they finished
The Eliminator after finishing fourth, with seven wins from 14 matches.
What went right
Mumbai Indians were one of two teams to sweep their home games in 2013. This year, their batting was continuously disappointing in the UAE but on their return to the Wankhede Stadium, they toppled Kings XI Punjab, the most dominant team of the season. They dropped only one game at their home ground. Lendl Simmons provided impetus at the top and with his performances, Mumbai managed scores that their bowlers had a proper chance of defending.
Harbhajan Singh was the other notable positive. The offspinner was more inclined to toss the ball up and even indulged in a few doosras, something he has mostly avoided in recent years. His 14 wickets came at an economy of 6.47 - second only to Sunil Narine for bowlers who have sent down more than 50 overs. Among the other regulars (besides Lasith Malinga and Zaheer Khan) Jasprit Bumrah was the only one with an economy under 8. Had Harbhajan received more support, Mumbai might have prolonged their season.
What went wrong
Five successive losses in the UAE. Rohit Sharma was vocal about the pride he felt in his team turning that run around and making the playoffs, but it was hardly the best way to kick off the defence of their only IPL title. A lopsided squad was attributed to poor strategy while retaining players and subsequently at the auction as well. They carried four wicketkeepers, their captain was not in the best of form, their premier finisher was returning from a long injury layoff, they hounded after the flavour of the season, arguably needlessly, and they had no back up for their best bowler when they knew he would have to leave for national duty.
Michael Hussey's struggles in the early season was as good as a poison pill. He had topped the charts for the run-getters list last year and seemed a lock to remedy the losses of Sachin Tendulkar and Dwayne Smith. Instead, Mumbai had to wait 10 matches for their first 50-plus opening partnership, in which time they had already fiddled with seven different combinations at the top. Rohit and Pollard were shuttled up and down to batting order on the basis of which holes needed to be filled the most. Neither of them were consistent and their dilemma over scoring quickly or battening down the hatches contributed to flagging run-rates in the middle overs. There was so much dearth that Aditya Tare (who played only five matches last season) and CM Gautam found a place in the XI quite regularly despite averaging under 20. An injury to Zaheer and Malinga's departure for England also left the bowling attack starkly depleted.
Mumbai's scoring rate was 7.29 until the final league game against Rajasthan Royals. It was the lowest among all teams. They struck the second-lowest number of fours (164) and were third-lowest sixes (65).
Lendl Simmons made his IPL debut on May 10th. Since then, the only person who has accumulated more runs has been Robin Uthappa. Simmons' inclusion, with Malinga on national duty, helped remedy a fragile top order. The average opening partnership before he took the job was 14.57. Since he stepped up, it shot to 50. He doesn't look particularly elegant, but in getting his front leg out of the way and bashing the ball either side of the wicket, he was quite effective. A century - the only one of the IPL so far - boosted his average to 56.28.
The return of the IPL to India coincided with slow-bowling taking greater precedence. Although it has been a heartening season for the quicks, seven of the top-15 wicket-takers were spinners. Mumbai, with a stunted attack, needed Harbhajan and Pragyan Ojha to form a profitable partnership. However, Ojha looped the ball too high, allowing batsmen to get underneath him or dragged it too short to sit up for the pull and unlike Harbhajan, he looked toothless once the batsman got on a roll. Ojha had the benefit of 24 Tests under his belt, yet his tally of four wickets in 12 matches at an economy rate of 8.26 placed him well below little-known Karanveer Singh, whose seven wickets required only three matches.
Corey Anderson played only three matches during the ODI series against India in January, but he was New Zealand's highest wicket-taker. Against West Indies, he had struck a career-defining century which tipped him as the best buy of the IPL auction. Mumbai's interest in him was almost guaranteed, despite having the very same player in Pollard. However, an average of 18.75 twinned with a strike-rate of 118 was not what the owners had bargained for. He struggled coping with high-quality spin, he resorted to slogging at the ball too hard and consequently was dropped for a few matches. His whirlwind at Wankhede was a long time coming and though it propelled them into the knockouts, his own relief at the end of that game revealed how much more had been expected of him.
Despite their indifferent season, Mumbai did provide one of the most exhilarating matches in the league's history, culminating in the most important six Aditya Tare has hit in his career so far. He had just reached the crease. His side had needed 190 off 14.3 overs in the final league game to steal a playoff spot from Rajasthan Royals. They got 189. Wankhede had careened into despair until it was revealed that the net run-rate equation allowed for one final hurrah. If Tare could hit the 14.4th delivery to the boundary, Mumbai could still win well enough to make the eliminator. The rumble began, James Faulkner revved up and Tare was presented with a leg-stump full toss. The next several minutes were a blur of emotion as Tare smashed a resounding six and Wankhede erupted. Rahul Dravid flung his Royals cap into the turf, Tare brandished the Mumbai jersey at the opposition captain and hurtled away to the dugout to be mobbed by his team-mates.
Josh Hazlewood, Sushant Marathe, Apoorv Wankhade and Jalaj Saxena (withdrawn after injury)
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo