It doesn’t often come to this - that Mumbai struggle to break through or worst play their penultimate game of a season not knowing if they can actually find a place in the top four. For all their problems in getting off the block at the start of the season, the five-time champions know how to always turn it around on the back of a mighty team effort where everyone contributes and then smiles their way to the podium.
In 2021, none of that has happened consistently. Barring Quinton de Kock, everyone has struggled to score runs. Jasprit Bumrah was mighty impressive but the fort around him has fallen. Rahul Chahar suddenly found himself on the bench and Hardik Pandya is yet to bowl a ball this year. Consequently, coming to Tuesday’s encounter against Rajasthan Royals, they were in seventh place on the points table and holding a genuine chance of not qualifying for the play-offs at all. However, in that moment of despondency, everything changed and out of Sharjah’s basement, a known Mumbai emerged - ready to give their all. When everything could have gone haywire, Mumbai Indians ensured they would stay afloat and believe.
To understand why this eight-wicket win against Rajasthan Royals was special, it is important to go back and find a perspective on their failure this season. Coming to Tuesday’s encounter, barring Rohit and QDK, no one had crossed the 250-run mark for the season and all their batters have managed just six scores in excess of fifty and only de Kock scored more than one. Among the teams in IPL this season, Mumbai batters have scored the least number of half-centuries.
Neutrals would have taken an off-season for MI players anytime. Just not with the World Cup being about a month away.— Somesh Agarwal (@someshagarwal22) September 26, 2021
Hope it ensures they turn up hungry for the more important event. #RCBvsMI
While they were at it, performances of Krunal Pandya, one of the most important cogs in their wheel, gave them enough headache. While with the bat, he has scored just 134 runs and averaged just 15 at 116, which are the lowest for him in a season, all he could manage with the ball is five wickets in 11 innings so far, which is the lowest for him in a season and his economy of 7.7 has also been his most expensive in a season.
Jasprit Bumrah has done Jasprit Bumrah things, daunting in the powerplay and extraordinary at the death, but unlike 2020, he has found negligible support from Trent Boult. The New Zealander has been wicket-less in the last five matches in the phase. In fact, he has only four wickets in 13 innings with the new ball in the season so far. Of course, he is successful at death but has gone for more than 10 runs in an over in that phase to put pressure back on Bumrah.
We can go on and on about Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav as well but you get the gist. In short, a champion team with extraordinary prowess were nowhere at their best collectively and it showed. But there’s a reason why Mumbai are special and the most-feared team in the competition. They know the process is more important than results and they have gifted players in their squad who have the uncanny ability to dictate the course. It separated them from the Royals last night and sent a crushing message to Kolkata Knight Riders who are at the pole position to make it to the play-offs.
Rajasthan got off to a great start, with the duo of Evin Lewis and Yashaswi Jaiswal scoring 26 runs off the first three overs, but Mumbai put them under pressure by sending 66 dot balls in the entire innings. Pace variations and accuracy in lengths by the Mumbai bowlers made it much more difficult for the Rajasthan batsmen to score runs freely in the middle-overs too, resulting in Rajasthan scoring only 30 runs and losing four wickets in that phase. Nathan Coulter-Nile and James Neesham, two perennial underachievers in the IPL, showed up to put up their best and flatter the Royals.
Out of the 66 dot balls bowled by Mumbai bowlers, Bumrah, Coulter-Nile (16) and Neesham (13) shared 47 of them. Bumrah led the list with 18 dot balls which were the most for a Mumbai bowler across the years. There are eight instances of a Mumbai bowler bowling 17 dot balls in an innings. In the 2020 IPL, Trent Boult against Chennai Super Kings and Bumrah against Delhi Capitals had 17 dot balls. Those dot balls added pressure on the Royals from which they could never recover.
"The crucial part for us as we were 42  for 1 after the powerplay, and the plan was then to extend it beyond the 13th-14th over with at least seven wickets in hand. So that we could really target a bowler or two and build that platform in the 15th over. Unfortunately, we didn't adapt, Mumbai bowled very well, and we lost too many wickets and we could never attack at any stage. So probably the fault lies more with us than the pitch or the toss,” Royals coach Kumar Sangakkara admitted at the end of the game.
Mumbai will take a lot of heart from this win ahead of Friday’s encounter against Sunrisers Hyderabad in Abu Dhabi. Due to their poor NRR, their qualification chances will depend on the KKR-RR result, and hope they put up another gigantic effort against the wooden-spooners. It is a far-fetched dream, but like everything else with Mumbai, they always believe. You can never argue with that, can you?