Great teams don’t surprise themselves by winning. They expect to win; when they do so, they don’t go overboard. It’s not as if there is no thrill that accompanies ultimate success, or no great satisfaction at a difficult job tremendously well done. It’s just that they set such high standards and make such unforgiving demands of themselves that they consider success an inevitable outcome of matching up to their own expectations.
There was no over-the-top celebration in Dubai on Tuesday night when Krunal Pandya biffed the single which allowed Mumbai Indians to extend their hegemony over the Indian Premier League. Their five-wicket conquest of Delhi Capitals was the Mumbai-based franchise’s second title on the bounce, and their fifth in 13 editions. After Chennai Super Kings in 2011, they became the first side to defend their IPL crown. Hitherto, Rohit Sharma’s men had won only in odd years from 2013; 2020 has been an odd year in so many different ways that it was almost as if the Indians were destined to break their even-years-only jinx.
— Mumbai Indians (@mipaltan) November 11, 2020
To say Mumbai Indians were by a distance the most complete side of IPL 2020 will be an understatement. They have been the team to beat for a while now, and not because they can throw around more money than their competitors. One of the IPL’s several unique features is that all eight franchises get to use the same amount of money to assemble squads. That precludes the possibility, like in European football leagues for instance, of the richer clubs flexing their financial muscle and buying surplus resources, if only to ensure that they leave the more ambitious but not so financially strong rivals scrambling for crumbs.
It’s to prevent precisely this skewed slant towards the rich and the powerful and to lay out a level-playing field that the IPL standardized the sums teams could expend on putting together their squads. Mumbai don’t necessarily have all the best talent available, because that is simply not possible given the IPL auction structure. What they do have is the ability to maximise the resources at their disposal, and the foresight to think beyond the obvious by ensuring that there are enough skilled and hungry back-ups in the event of first-choice options being ruled out for some reason or the other.
Mumbai Indians’ success hasn’t been accidental; their pre-eminence as the most powerful Twenty20 team of all time is a well-sculpted journey dating back nearly a decade, a journey that received irrevocable fillip midway through the 2013 campaign when Rohit Sharma took over the leadership role from Ricky Ponting.
Ponting, the former Australian captain, was gracious enough to acknowledge not just that he wasn’t pulling his weight as either skipper or batsman, but also that he was holding one place up. When he stepped aside to allow the opening up of an overseas slot, it seemed to revitalize the troops now being marshalled by a new skipper.
In no time, Rohit effected a dramatic turnaround, leading from the front by enjoying his most prolific IPL season to date. His team responded to the captain’s urgings in spectacular fashion. From bringing up the foot of the table, the Mumbai Indians launched a stirring charge which only ended when they defeated the Chennai Super Kings in the final. That was the beginning of a dominance that has gathered pace in subsequent years, and has slipped into the category of ‘truly awe-inspiring’ currently.
It’s said of winning teams that they are like a family, looking out for each other, enjoying one another’s success, placing greater emphasis on team rather than self. Oftentimes, it’s at the end of a campaign of delight that such platitudes are mouthed; with Mumbai, you can see these aren’t just politically correct statements doled out on demand. When you see the in-form Suryakumar Yadav unhesitatingly, voluntarily, walking past Rohit in the final to ensure that he and not the skipper is run out, you know there is more than mere lip service to team before individual. When you see Jasprit Bumrah charge in from the outfield and envelop Trent Boult in a bear-hug following early strikes in the Power Play, you know the Indian quick is least concerned about the Purple Cap, the prize for being the highest wicket-taker.
When Ishan Kishan, that little bundle of dynamite who, along with Suryakumar, has driven the charge in the middle overs, speaks of benefitting from words of wisdom from the Pandya brothers flanking him, you know he isn’t saying that just because he is standing right next to them. You can actually feel the sense of brotherhood, the feeling of oneness, the strong threads of emotional connect that allow them to discuss and then dismiss the occasional lows, and dissect and emulate the more frequent highs that others can only look at and marvel.
People talk about role definition, about clarity in execution and a synergy in purpose. But one of Mumbai’s greatest strengths has been their insistence on continuity. It’s a theme Chennai Super Kings first embraced, but where Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s team continues to swear by even those past their sell-by date, Mumbai are more practical and prudent in their choices.
The core team, with Rohit and Kieron Pollard, has been around for a decade now, but Mumbai have constantly replenished the well. Jasprit Bumrah’s signing in 2013, on the back of talent scout John Wright’s strong assertion that this was an uncut diamond, has turned out to be a masterstroke, and over the years, they have continued to keep with the times by roping in such daredevils as Hardik Pandya, Suryakumar and Kishan, as well as overseas stalwarts like Quinton de Kock, Boult and Nathan Coulter-Nile. Even in success, they have opted not to be stagnant. Well led, well-oiled and well-looked after, Mumbai Indians are at once the irresistible force and the immovable object. And they aren’t going away anywhere soon.