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On eve of the match against the Delhi Daredevils, Mumbai Indians' captain Shaun Pollock had said that they would retain their "winning combination" in response to a question regarding whether Sachin Tendulkar would play. It was a cheeky answer, after Mumbai had recorded their first win after four successive defeats, but Pollock led by example and masterminded the biggest upset of the Indian Premier League as Mumbai toppled Delhi. It was their second successive victory, their first at home, and it instilled the belief that Mumbai could win even without Tendulkar.
The target that Mumbai set - 162 - was modest by the tournament's standards and with Delhi's power-packed batting line-up - Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, AB de Villiers, Shoaib Malik - they were favourites to chase and win. As it turned out they fell 29 runs short, and the difference between the two teams was Pollock, who played the roles of batsman, bowler and captain with aplomb.
If Mumbai were going to challenge Delhi, Pollock needed to do a McGrath, i.e take wickets and concede few runs. His modus operandi was spot on and he inspired his bowlers to keep up the pressure. Pollock's first ball to Gambhir, the third-highest runscorer in the IPL, set the tone: a perfect out going delivery that Gambhir nearly edged before pulling his bat out of the way in the nick of time.
Such discipline and accuracy were the building blocks of Pollock's legend as South Africa's strike bowler. That focus on the minutiae maintained his status as one of the most economical bowlers till the time he decided to hang up his boots. Today he took those boots out of the locker once again.
His opening three-over spell cost only 11 runs and included the wicket of Shikhar Dhawan, who had successfully continued the openers' good work in Delhi's previous victories. Pollock then returned at a crucial juncture to finish his spell when Delhi were rebuilding to launch a final assault. Malik and Dinesh Karthik were steadily regaining the momentum lost immediately after Sehwag's departure and the asking-rate was around eight an over, thoroughly manageable by Delhi's standards.
Pollock's first ball of his last over was a slower one. Malik took the risk of clearing the straight boundary but failed to clear the long off. Pollock later said the "wickets of Sehwag and Malik were the key" because they had international experience of orchestrating close run-chases.
Sehwag too felt that if he had batted longer Delhi would have made it. "Had I not got out at that stage I am confident we would have won comfortably," he said. "We kept losing wickets at regular intervals and the asking-rate went up. It was batting failure which was responsible for the defeat."
That batting failure was brought about by Pollock's bowling skill and his ability to marshal his team-mates. He was seen motivating his young bowlers, putting an arm around each one, being assertive, and yet he delivered his instructions gently. His cool captaincy on the field came after he had lifted Mumbai's innings from the throes at 112 for 5 with a sparkling 15-ball 33, which included a calculated 22-run assault against Mohammad Asif in the 19th over. The feature of Pollock's batting was the manner he moved towards the leg side to make room against the tight line and lengths employed by Delhi's bowlers.
His innings was the difference between a poor total and a competitive one, and his spell punctured Delhi's run-chase at the start. It was a compelling allround effort by a captain of a team that had the worst start to the IPL and his reward was a victory against the table leaders.