Shaun Pollock: "It is basically 24 balls you get, and if you are on top of your skills you can play a big part" (file photo) © AFP
 

Today was one of those rare days in sport, when everything went according to plan for one team. Mumbai Indians had a perfect match, but then again, they've been having near-perfect matches for a while now. Before the Kolkata Knight Riders were annihilated on Friday, the Delhi Daredevils, Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings had arrived in Mumbai wearing the favourites tag but left with their morale severely beaten. Shaun Pollock laid the foundations for all four victories at home, and also the away win at Eden Gardens, where Kolkata were restricted to 137 for 8.

In the absence of Sachin Tendulkar due to injury, Pollock, with assistance from Sanath Jayasuriya, has kept the team positive even after four successive defeats at the start of the tournament. Harbhajan Singh may have been the captain before he was banned but it was Pollock who played the leading roles of strategist and morale-booster.

He has led through his performances and helped end Mumbai's losing streak with a spell of 2 for 27 - Jayasuriya took 3 for 14 - at Eden Gardens, after which he's played a significant role in each subsequent victory. He scored 33 crucial runs during the death against Delhi and then crippled their run-chase by taking 2 for 16, and another tight spell - 1 for 19 off three overs - laid the foundations of the win against Rajasthan.

The best, though, was yet to come. He controlled Chennai's batsmen like wooden marionettes during a spell of 4-1-9-1, which included a maiden over to Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the second highest run-scorer of the tournament.

On Friday, Pollock executed his plans against Kolkata's top order with precision. His length was immaculate and his ability to seam the ball away from both the right- and left-handers on a pitch that had excellent bounce made for a lethal combination. It was a test of patience and Salman Butt, David Hussey and Mohammad Hafeez failed, edging Pollock's perfect deliveries to give him figures of 4-0-12-3.

Credit must also be given to Tendulkar, who decided to bowl out Pollock in an attempt to end Kolkata's challenge. Pollock responded with Hafeez's wicket in his fourth over, just like he had bowled the maiden to Dhoni, when Tendulkar had retained one over to stop Dhoni from hustling the game away in the middle overs.

Keeping things simple is Pollock's mantra and he believes that it's possible for a bowler to dominate even in the batsman-friendly Twenty20 format. "You really have to get going from ball one," Pollock said. "There's no time to get into a spell. It is basically 24 balls you get, and if you are on top of your skills you can play a big part. It may seem like just a short part of the game but Twenty20 cricket is like a sprint, so if teams get off to a good start that sets them up for big scores."

Pollock's job is to prevent those starts and today he had Kolkata reeling at 27 for 3 after the Powerplay overs. Sourav Ganguly, the Kolkata captain, admitted Pollock was the difference because he "put the ball in the right areas" but Kolkata coach John Buchanan was more forthright. "We've been humiliated tonight, no doubt about that," Buchanan said. "Pollock did exceptionally well and we could not recover after that."

Mumbai's next opponent - Deccan Chargers - will have to devise a strategy to survive Pollock, and then counterattack him. For if the next match goes according to Pollock's script, Mumbai could set the record for the longest winning streak in the IPL.