(Cricinfo) Mumbai Indians’ third IPL title was a product of a united group combining teamwork with intelligence, their captain Rohit Sharma believes, and this was best exemplified by their plucky one-run win over Rising Pune Supergiant in the 2017 final on Sunday night. While Mumbai’s earlier title wins in 2013 and 2015 were driven by strong individual performances, Rohit took pride in how the latest conquest was achieved by a collective assault.
“I personally feel it is how you prepare at the start of the tournament – getting your combinations right and going on to the field is the most critical part of winning the tournament,” Rohit said. “Individual brilliance can win you a few games, but what is required to win this championship is team unity, team work and intelligence.
“We spoke about it at the start of the tournament. If you look at the first two titles we won, we probably had one batsman in the top five [leading run-getters]. We didn’t have [even] one batsman in the top-five this time which is a little bit sad, but that goes to show that different individuals have come up at different times and taken up responsibility. That is the hallmark of this team, especially this year.
“We’ve never relied on one individual to win us the game. Today was the perfect example. The bowling unit came in together. Again, we have got a few youngsters, a few inexperienced players and a few legends in our bowling unit. It was a combination of both, and we gelled quite nicely. We mixed it up nicely.”
In their previous two finals, Mumbai set a target and let the bowlers do their thing. So when Rohit elected to bat on Sunday night, they were merely sticking to a tried and tested template.
“In a big game, it’s good to put runs on the board,” he said. “The history at this place is such that there have been 200 runs scored in an innings and also just 140. So if you don’t bat well, you won’t make a big target.” There was acknowledgement in the team talk at the halfway mark that, with 130, they had given themselves only a below-par total to defend. But, that wouldn’t deflate their morale.
“I don’t think we applied ourselves too well. Our target was between 140 and 160. If we had tried to overreach to 180, then you could’ve been bowled out for 120,” Rohit said. “So our talk was that we try and make 140 so we may even get to 160. One-hundred and sixty on this wicket would’ve been a match-winning score, as you saw.
“When you are playing on a slow pitch, it’s important to believe you can defend any target when you are fielding. So that was the talk when we came into the change room after our poor batting display. We spoke about how we played our last game against one of the better batting units in the tournament – KKR – and bowled them out for 105 . Why can’t we do it here? The guys knew the challenge but they rose to the occasion”.
Mumbai’s defence began in nervy fashion with a few fielding lapses. The most glaring mistake was made by Krunal Pandya, who fluffed a simple chance offered by Ajinkya Rahane, who was then on 14, at short extra-cover in the fourth over. Rahane went on to make 44. Rohit said the team had to regroup at the first strategic time-out and address the anxiety. The message was simple: don’t overreach, just force the batsmen to make mistakes.
“When you are defending such a low target, it’s so important for the fielders to try and create some magic – taking a brilliant catch or stopping those crucial runs,” Rohit said. “We spoke about it in the change room that we wanted to add 20 runs extra with our fielding. But yeah, the first ten overs we were a little sloppy in the field.
“These things can happen, sometimes you are so nervous you try and overdo it. [During] the break we had after six overs, we just got together and asked everyone to be calm. You can’t come and play your shots; it’s such a slow wicket. We always had that belief that things can change anytime.
“We had to stay in the game for 20 overs. [It] didn’t matter if they create a partnership for 10 overs or whatever, we wanted to stay in the game. One wicket here and there and things can change. And that’s exactly what happened. We squeezed in and spinners came in and bowled those dot balls, created pressure, which made them play big shots. That’s where they made mistakes.”
Rohit Sharma: ‘We always knew we had a great backup in Johnson’ © BCCI
One of the key architects of Mumbai’s successful night with the ball was Mitchell Johnson. Entrusted with defending 10 runs off the last over, Johnson conceded four runs off the first ball but hit back with the wickets of Manoj Tiwary and Pune captain Steven Smith off successive deliveries. With four required to win off the last ball, Johnson held his nerve.
“Mitchell McClenaghan, who was playing well for us, was injured and unfortunately he couldn’t find a place in the finals, but we always knew we had a great backup in Johnson, who is again a proven customer,” Rohit said. “He has done it for Australia and Mumbai as well. He has been in this atmosphere as well. I could happily rely on him when I needed him the most. The last over was very crucial. Steven Smith was set, batting really well. So is Dan Christian, he has played against him on many occasions.
Rohit also lauded the Pandya brothers – Krunal and Hardik – for contributing in every facet of the game. While Hardik has played the finisher’s role and scored 250 runs at a strike rate of 156.25, Krunal has clicked with both bat and ball in the tournament. He made 243 runs from 11 innings with the bat and picked up 10 wickets while being the team’s second most economical bowler behind Harbhajan Singh. In the final, it was his 38-ball 47 that nudged Mumbai towards a decent total following which he bowled a typically tight spell of left-arm spin.
“I think both Pandya brothers have something special in them,” Rohit said. “When you see them on the field, they are so excited to play the game. They want to contribute in some or the other way. It’s just not about bowling or batting; they contribute in fielding as well which is such a critical part in this format.
“Krunal has become mature now. Last year he was nervous to start with. Now he knows he is a core member of the squad. He just goes out and plays freely. He has got no pressure. Of course, if you drop the catch, there is a chance of coming back and bowling a good over. That’s exactly what he did.”