Mumbai Indians overcome LSG in Chennai by playing 100% pure T20 cricket
They have been ultra aggressive with the bat all through this season and trusted that approach to succeed on a slow surface in the Eliminator
"T20 purist" might sound like an oxymoron but they exist, and they will be happy Mumbai Indians won the banana peel of an Eliminator, and are now headed to the quicker pitches of Ahmedabad where they need to win two matches for a sixth IPL title.
The Eliminator was always going to be their big test after a season in which they overcame grave setbacks and still made the playoffs. They lost almost all of their bowling to injuries, then a middle-order batting star for a while, lost the first two matches, and are still here through some pure T20 cricket. It has required the quicker, truer surfaces to support their T20 purity, but they carried it to the slow surface, against a team built for slow surfaces, and triumphed.
T20 purists don't believe in expending too much energy on spectacular fielding, running between the wickets, and beyond a point, bowling. Twenty20 is a game for hitting boundaries and enjoying some luck, which has only been reinforced by the addition of an extra batter through the Impact Player rule.
An interview of Rohit Sharma did the rounds in the lead-up to the Eliminator. Rohit Sharma, their captain, told Jio Cinema how there is no room for an anchor in T20s anymore. If at all anchoring is required, it should be the last resort according to him, and not the default.
Rohit has led the way himself both for India and Mumbai Indians by taking early risks even if it has meant a lean run for him. It hasn't yet started showing in the strike-rate because he hasn't lasted long enough but Rohit has attempted a boundary every 2.67 balls this IPL, his best rate since we started logging intent at ESPNcricinfo. In 2019, Rohit's best aggregate season since 2018, he attempted a boundary every 4.5 balls.
"I just want to play that way and see what I can do," Rohit said. "I have played this format for a long time and in a certain manner, but I want to do different things now. While doing that, (if) I get out, (it) does not really bother me."
Rohit can't demand that others attempt a boundary every three balls when he himself is taking a risk every five balls. This year they have anyway been forced to go extreme with the bat because of injuries to their bowlers. Mumbai have scored 65.9% of their runs in boundaries, the highest rate in the league. In 2019, they scored just 60.6% of their runs in boundaries, and were well behind the thought leaders, Kolkata Knight Riders.
Of course, Mumbai tried their best with the available bowlers, but they also realised their limited agency and went harder with the bat. As a team they have tried to hit a boundary every 2.31 balls. KKR are next with an attempt every 2.39 balls. Their efficiency when attempting boundaries has been second only to Sunrisers Hyderabad - 2.64 runs for every attempt against SRH's 2.67 - but SRH have attempted to go past the ropes much less often: once every three balls.
Our statistician Sampath Bandaruppalli dug deeper. He calculated the length and the worth of each innings of a top-three run-getters of each team. The innings of Mumbai's top-three run-getters have lasted 19.47 balls each - the third-lowest - but have yielded the best strike-rate at 162.1. So an average innings by a Mumbai top-three run-getter is roughly 32 off 20. The numbers for corresponding numbers for RCB, CSK and Titans are 42 off 28, 39 off 27 and 33 off 23.
Mumbai have been happier to share the load to facilitate carrying it quicker. Titans are making up with their bowling, and RCB saw a big drop from the top-three run-getters. Mumbai have hitters all around, have given the license, and are happy to live with failure because, hey, how many of them can fail in one night?
If there was ever a night for more of them to fail than succeed, it was at Chepauk against LSG. Only the previous night, CSK had defended 172 successfully there. Now Mumbai were against LSG, who had three spinners in their line-up.
Mumbai were brave enough to give up chasing, which has worked spectacularly for them, but the way they went about setting the total was pure T20. Ishan Kishan went hard at the first ball of the match and hit a four, Rohit's first scoring shot was a six followed by a four a ball later, Cameron Green hit a four first ball, and Suryakumar Yadav was, well, Suryakumar Yadav.
Anchoring was undertaken only as a last resort when Naveen-ul-Haq removed both Suryakumar and Green in the same over, the 11th. And they didn't import someone to be a specialist anchor; they trusted Tim David to do it. Had they not lost David in the 17th over, Mumbai would perhaps have brought in an extra bowler as Impact Player, but now they loaded their batting even more with Nehal Wadhera coming in as the impact Player.
As it turned out, Mumbai went well past what was par for the conditions. This is, of course, not the only way to play. At least not for now. As Gujarat Titans, Mumbai's next opponents in Qualifier 2, have shown. They have scored only 58.65% of their runs in boundaries, but have made up for it with their bowling. In the middle of the season, Titans did push their intent up after they lost the un-loseable match to Rinku Singh, but they still play a much safer style of T20 because of their bowling.
That same attack was taken for 217 by Mumbai on a true Wankhede Stadium, a total their batters couldn't chase down. All of a sudden, the defending champions, who finished on the top of the league table, will have to fight these T20 purists with their batters save Shubman Gill not in great hitting form. It can happen when you have a complete bowling attack, you tend not to maximise your batting because you don't need to and you don't want to unnecessarily risk a collapse. Ironically, that is the MS Dhoni way, which he has himself dropped for a more daring approach this year. It will be fascinating to see if the Titans bowlers can prove the T20 purists wrong on Friday.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo