IPL final: Mumbai Indians show it isn’t how the start but the finish that matters

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winning their second IPL title, Mumbai showed that a fast start is often just that, as the Rajasthan Royals know all too well. What matters in the IPL is how you finish. Mumbai got hot at the right time, winning nine of their last 10 games to lift the trophy. It was a replica of Kolkata Knight Rider’s hot streak last year, when they won their last nine games en route to their second title.

Mumbai’s 41-run win over the Chennai Super Kings in the IPL final was their largest victory in terms of runs all season. Their second biggest victory came in the first Qualifier against the same opponents. Their biggest victory in terms of wickets came in their last league game against Sunrisers Hyderabad – a game they had to win to make the playoffs. Mumbai had (probably unintentionally) saved their best for last.

It was their bowling that made the bigger transformation. Only three teams in this IPL conceded more runs than they scored in the league stage: Kings XI Punjab, who finished last; Sunrisers Hyderabad, who missed the playoffs; and Mumbai Indians, who ended up as champions. That’s the sort of statistical anomaly that number-crunchers can have fun with for years but it indicates how poor the bowling must have been considering Mumbai scored more runs than any other team – 2345. They just happened to concede the most runs as well – 2371.

Yet in their three biggest wins, the bowlers took 28 out of a possible 30 wickets as Mumbai dominated almost as much with the ball as they did with the bat. Lasith Malinga shed his early season rustiness and returned to the form that has made him one of the best limited-overs bowlers in the world, even if his pace was down. In Mitchell McClenaghan, he had a wicket-taking partner with the new ball. And Harbhahan Singh demonstrated he still has the guile and tactical nous to wrinkle batsmen out.

It was with the bat though, that Mumbai stamped their authority on the season.

In the final, Mumbai lost Parthiv Patel in the first over to a stunning piece of fielding from Faf du Plessis, who somehow hit the stumps with a backhanded flicks while lying horizontal on the ground. It was the sort of dismissal that could damage a batting team’s psyche but Rohit Sharma was having none of it. He hit his third ball for six, his fourth for four and his sixth for another four, all in the same over from Mohit Sharma.

The early momentum CSK had earned from running out Parthiv was lost in the space of four deliveries. Mumbai helped themselves to 60 runs from overs two through five and Chennai never recovered.

Hope flickered briefly when Rohit and Lendl Simmons were dismissed off consecutive deliveries with the score on 120 but Kieron Pollard flexed his considerable muscles – much as he did at the Wankhede Stadium on Tuesday – and the flicker was quickly extinguished. That it was Ashish Nehra, Chennai’s best bowler this season, who was brutalised by Pollard served to emphasise Mumbai’s superiority.

Nehra’s first three overs had gone for just 18 runs. He hadn’t taken a wicket but he had kept the batsmen relatively quiet. MS Dhoni brought him back to bowl the 17th over with Mumbai 150/3. A wicket or two at this stage, and CSK could still have held Mumbai to a par score.

After Rayudu had taken a single, Pollard uncorked a mighty six over midwicket. Nehra answered with an excellent yorker that Pollard just managed to keep out. Nehra tried the yorker again but this time was a fraction short. Pollard crunched the bat down and the ball sped to the deep midwicket boundary faster than the eye could follow. Rattled, Nehra served up a low full toss that was clobbered for another six before his final ball was sliced over extra-cover for the third six of the over.

Pollard had taken strike having made 11 from nine balls. He ended the over on 33 from 14 and Mumbai were steadfastly matching towards 200. Once Mumbai got there, it was always going to be difficult for CSK’s misfiring batting to chase down their target.

Sports leagues (and tournaments) are typically held up as examples of meritocracy. The best team is supposed to win. At the half-way stage of the 2015 IPL, Mumbai was tied for last and were far from being the best team in the tournament. Yet they never stopped believing they could turn their season around.

One month later, they are holding the trophy. As the hottest team in the IPL, it is no more than they deserved.

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