Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
Mumbai Indians closed out April with four successive games on the road and then edged Sunrisers Hyderabad in a crazy super-over finish at the Wankhede. As things panned out, they had to win their final league game, also at home, against Kolkata Knight Riders to top the points table. Rohit Sharma's men ticked it off and pressed onto topple Chennai Super Kings in the first qualifier at Chepauk. All of this resulted in a welcome four-day break for Mumbai before the final.
Rohit found time to visit the Tirupati temple while the rest of his team-mates and their families got together for a squad dinner in Hyderabad. On the eve of another Mumbai v Super Kings final, Rohit and coach Mahela Jayawardene were in a similar relaxed state of mind and urged their players to shelve emotions, too, and not get ahead of themselves.
"Every now and then we've spoken to the guys about not getting too emotional about the finals or playoff games you play," Rohit said. "We just want to focus on the game at hand and not think too far ahead. That particular thing has helped us as a team moving forward. So, I don't think we need to change anything else, and continue to focus in that direction. If we keep doing that, it'll work for years to come as well."
Not letting emotions cloud their judgement so far has been central to Mumbai's run to the final. Lasith Malinga was the side's bowling mentor last season, but they got him on board again as a player in the IPL 2019 auction after he had worked on his fitness and rediscovered his bowling rhythm. Mayank Markande, who was Mumbai's biggest success story last season, couldn't quite replicate his form this season, and was left out in favour of Rahul Chahar, who has produced crucial breakthroughs in the Powerplay as well as middle overs. Suryakumar Yadav had a patchy start to the tournament, but peaked against Super Kings in the first qualifier to launch Mumbai into the final.
"It's important we trust a group of players," Jayawardene said. "And we identify the guys who are performing and who are in form and once you're transparent about that everyone understands what's the best XI and they pick themselves quite easily. Mayank [Markande] started the season, but we felt Rahul [Chahar] was bowling much better and his rhythm was better. So, we went with that option. Same with Lasith [Malinga].
"Last year, Lasith was injured and not in great form. This year we thought he was back in form and would be a good foil for [Jasprit] Bumrah because at the back end lots of teams are leaking runs in that department. So, we want to have experience there. So, it's a collective decision. It's not an easy one, but as long as you're honest and there's a process behind the decision-making, things become easier and that entire group understands that and that's transparent. That has helped us become consistent over the years and that's been a part of the success as well as they come out and play fearless cricket in that environment."
Having beaten Super Kings three times in three games this season and twice in three IPL finals, Mumbai head into this IPL final with a significant advantage. When asked if performing against Super Kings brings the best out of Mumbai, Rohit simply downplayed the rivalry and said that anyone could beat anyone in the IPL, citing the example of Rajasthan Royals defeating Mumbai twice this season, but still suffering a premature exit.
"I wouldn't agree with that [Super Kings bringing the best out of Mumbai?]. The tournament itself is the biggest challenge," Rohit said. "Every team has threats in their team. You have to be good on that particular day to beat any team. Royals for example, have not qualified but they've beaten us twice. MI v CSK - the reason there's a lot of hype around is because they've been so successful in winning the championship. That's probably the reason everybody looks forward to this clash and there's a lot of talk going around these two teams. I see every team as a threat, because if you lose the grip at any stage against any opposition, you might not have the result you're looking for."
Both Rohit and Jayawardene credited collective, not individual, brilliance for Mumbai's sustained success. Five bowlers have claimed 10 or more wickets for Mumbai this season and although Rohit hasn't quite fired like he can, Quinton de Kock, Hardik Pandya, Kieron Pollard, Suryakumar and Ishan Kishan have all made telling contributions with the bat.
"Finding different match-winners is something we spoke of at the beginning of the season," Jayawardene said. "It takes pressure off key players as well - otherwise, they are going to a game under pressure. Whereas when you have six-seven guys to win a battle for you out there, it gives you opportunities to win matches. That's something we realised you require in such a tournament. And playing home and away as well - different conditions suits different players. Another factor is that opposition also finds it difficult to plan or have an idea how we approach different games because different guys are actually performing.
"I've always believe that teams wins championships, individuals can win you matches, but you need a good group and team to win championships. That's something we've tried doing."