Despite the potential threat of the ongoing pandemic, the 2020 IPL captured the imaginations of millions of star struck fans with a breath-taking spectacle of cricketing entertainment at its absolute finest. In no other IPL have we been booned with such a colossal quantity of nail-biting contests between 2 sides consisting of some of the best players to ever grace the planet.
Perhaps because of this, it was deeply anticlimactic that this cricketing epic was concluded by such a ruthless performance by the Mumbai Indians to claim their 5th IPL title and such a timid one by the Delhi Capitals. The comprehensive outcome symbolised the sheer ruthlessness MI have displayed this year and the gulf in quality between them and the rest of the IPL sides. This is epitomised by the stat that the 2nd placed team (Delhi Capitals) lost a whopping 4 times against MI this year. Astonishing!
But the question that is begging to be answered is how have MI reached this seemingly unattainable level of excellency?
World class middle order
Far too many teams fall into the fatal trap of assembling a top-heavy batting line-up, which leaves them susceptible to dramatic collapses, but MI certainly isn’t one of them.
Kieron Pollard and the Pandya brothers have collectively showcased some of the most devastating death overs hitting ever witnessed in the illustrious history of the tournament. Pollard, in particular, proved to be the undisputed king of picking which bowlers to demolish and which to play respectfully, a deceivingly complex art that Andre Russell is yet to master, by tonking a season defining 268 runs striked at an imposing 191.42.
The dynamic 360 degree hitting of Hardik Pandya proved to be the perfect foil to Pollard’s predominantly straight down the ground smacking as he contributed many crucial innings for MI at the impressive strike rate of 159.26.
While Krunal Pandya was significantly less spectacular, he provided the luxury of having a left-handed batsman who could take down key bowlers if the match up suited.
The benefits of constructing such a formidable middle order are bountiful: the need for an anchor (a typically classical batsman whose main role is to prevent collapse and keep the run rate ticking but can invariably produce what is now known as a “match losing innings” due to a low strike rate) is negated completely and players will be less tempted to go into their shell after an early wicket. As a result, the likes of De Kock, Kishan and SKY can play with freedom and without the nagging fear of exposing a potentially weak middle order.
This is a key factor to MI’s success.
Outstanding young Indian talent
I have always been a firm believer that the optimum and most cost-effective way to construct an IPL team is to build around a strong core of domestic players rather than around overseas stars. The Mumbai Indians have taken this strategy to another level:
In addition to the settled trio of Rohit Sharma and the Pandya brothers, MI have been blessed with the brilliant performances of Ishan Kishan, Suryakumar Yadav and Rahul Chahar, who are all uncapped by India.
All 3 of them were pivotal in MI’s title run (Kishan even scored the most runs for the side which is monumental for an uncapped player) in a way that other sides aren’t. Take Rajasthan Royals: they are heavily reliant on the fortunes of their English trio of Buttler, Stokes and Archer who they bought for gargantuan amounts in auction. Because they overspent on their overseas, they were left with a measly amount to spend on local talent, which should be the bedrock of any franchise, and the ones they did buy were generally incapable of performing consistently. This is reflected in their final position of last.
MI, in contrast, ensured that the vast majority of their key players were Indian which allowed them to plug in the gaps in the sides with experienced overseas players such as De Kock and Boult who add an extra quality to the XI. This allowed MI to have a flawlessly balanced team.
Ahead of the 2020 auction, DC traded the Trent Boult to the Mumbai Indians while receiving the grand total of nothing. This ridiculous trade obviously indicated that DC were desperate to release the supposedly underperforming New Zealand legend and that they were confident that he didn’t have the T20 calibre to succeed in another franchise.
This piece of business backfired dramatically for DC as Trent Boult transformed into a monster of a power play bowler due to the prodigious swing and seam that he is so well known for on the test arena. Boult proceeded to devour 25 unfortunate batsmen at the tremendous average of 18.28.
In addition, the presence of Boult allowed MI to get the most out of Jasprit Bumrah, their pace spearhead and strike bowler: Boult bowled the majority of his overs in the powerplay and was cannily successful at producing early wickets which meant that the need for Bumrah to bowl 2 overs in the powerplay is very minimal. This meant that he can bowl the vast number of his overs in the middle overs and death, a period of play which he is incomparably successful at while Boult can specialise in the powerplay.
This is only one example of the plethora of times that MI have been insanely successful for identifying players who fit seamlessly into the makeup of the side. Other IPL sides have been notorious for bidding large amounts for big name players without having a clear idea of what their roles will be. This drastically affects the team balance and hence it also affects performance.
Teamwork and selflessness
In the IPL final, skipper Rohit Sharma was revving along nicely at a fluently made 46 while Suryakumar Yadav was looking promising on 20. On the 5th ball of the 11th over, tragedy struck: due to some lacklustre communication by Rohit Sharma, SKY and Sharma were stranded on the same end with a run out looking certain. Subsequently, SKY showed selflessness and outstanding game awareness when he sacrificed his wicket for the survival of Rohit Sharma. He realised, in a matter of seconds, that Sharma was nearing a 50 and looking in fine touch and that, in this scenario, his wicket was worth less than Sharma’s.
Successful international teams generally take years to cultivate a selfless team with minimal individual desire and unmeasurable collective desire yet MI have managed to achieve this goal in 3 weeks and in the middle of a global pandemic!
Most franchises, not just in the IPL, have outstanding talents and tournament winning capability but are unable to create an environment in which the welfare of the team is 1st priority. This leads to inconsistent results and a lack of titles. CSK and MI, 2 of the most decorated T20 sides in history, have been pioneers for this method as they have both employed the strategy of retaining a core group of players and creating a team culture around them.
For this to work, the quality of coaching and man management requires to be top notch so hats off to Mahela Jayawardene, the mastermind behind this juggernaut, for constructing such an impenetrable team culture.
In summary, the 2020 MI model of building a team is one that has to be one followed religiously by franchises in the future if they are to generate the same levels of success.