The heart of the matter is easy enough to locate. The Mumbai Indians, the only consistent team in this year's IPL, deserved to be in the final. Bangalore, who lost six of their last nine league games after starting so strongly, didn't. Bangalore never quite figured out what their strongest XI was, especially once Kevin Pietersen and Ross Taylor returned from international duty, and their sloppiness with both bat and ball eased Mumbai's path to the final.
As Anil Kumble was to say later, Bangalore did alright for two-thirds of the game. For 15 overs with the ball, they kept things under control, restricting a powerful line-up to just 107 runs, albeit on a pitch that was taking a fair bit of turn. Then, with the bat, they were well on course for nine overs. Two wickets in two balls though, and the game was pretty much up.
In truth, they should never have had to chase 185. When Pietersen finished a tidy spell by conceding just four in the 15th over, the pressure was on Saurabh Tiwary and Ambati Rayudu, neither with any international experience, to inject some impetus into the innings. Tiwary rode his luck as 17 came from a Jacques Kallis over and the match was transformed when the miserly Kumble (1 for 13 from his first three overs) was taken for 17 in his final over punctuated by two no-balls.
Dale Steyn returned to dismiss Rayudu in a 10-run over, but both he and Vinay Kumar were then hapless onlookers as Kieron Pollard freed those rangy arms and justified Mumbai's spending on him at the auction earlier this year. Neither helped their cause by bowling full tosses or good-length deliveries to a man who clears the fence with ease even when he mishits the ball.
Afterwards, Zaheer Khan, who captained Mumbai after Sachin Tendulkar went off with a hand injury, was asked how a bowler could respond to the kind of assault that Pollard unleashed. "You need to bowl your yorkers," he said. "And you need to be very clear in your mind about what you want to do."
Chasing such a big total against such a well-balanced bowling attack was never going to be easy, but with Dravid holding up one end, Bangalore made a game of it till almost halfway. Pietersen was again outfoxed by Harbhajan Singh, but it was the dismissal of Robin Uthappa, caught in the deep off a slower ball from Pollard, that was really decisive.
Bangalore also lost because their Indian players faded as the season went on. Praveen Kumar and Vinay, who started the season strongly, didn't distinguish themselves in the later games, while Manish Pandey wilted after a promising first stint at the top of the order. Uthappa's consistency and big hitting was a huge bonus, as Kumble was to acknowledge later, but the others didn't chip in enough when it mattered.
They now have a third place play-off and the possible consolation of a Champions League berth to contemplate. For a sweat-soaked Kumble, it was no consolation at all. "Every defeat hurts," he said. "We are professionals. Maybe some of the other players have other things to look forward to. But I no longer play international cricket. This is all I have. I still haven't got over losing in the final last year. This one will also take some time."
His team-mate of 18 years now faces an anxious wait to know if he'll be fit for the final. For much of the tournament, Sachin Tendulkar's runs piloted Mumbai's challenge. Today, with next to no contribution from him, the others proved that they're far from being a one-man show. Tiwary and Rayudu have both made huge strides during the course of this competition, and the fact that they didn't crumble under the pressure of a knockout situation augurs well for the future.
Both Sri Lankan pace bowlers did exceptionally well, but it was Pollard with his languid movements and awesome power that was the star of the show. They'll take some stopping in the final, no matter which team they face.