IPL 2019 was one of the hardest fought seasons in the history of the competition. Its grand finale was symbolic of that as Mumbai Indians defeated the defending champions Chennai Super Kings by one run to clinch the trophy.
As a result of this Mumbai Indians now have four titles to their name, making them the most successful side in the competition's history. Their opponents in the final and arch-rivals Chennai Super Kings have three trophies to their name, while Kolkata Knights have won the tournament twice.
Rajasthan Royals, Sunrisers Hyderabad and Deccan Chargers have each won it once. The likes of Kings XI Punjab, Delhi Capitals and Royal Challengers are yet to win the competition.
Evidently, the two finalists this year have established themselves as the two superpowers of the tournaments. Both the sides have made winning a habit.
The question that cricket fans are bound to ask is what makes these two teams so successful. There are various factors involved in that.
Both have well-balanced squads with a team full of options in each area and every department. Further, they have adept leaders, a well-planned auction strategy and a brilliant scouting system.
While these factors play a key role in making them so consistent, there is another big reason behind their success. It is the 'culture' that two franchises have built, in which players feel comfortable and are able to perform at their best.
Firstly, these teams build squads which are not dependent on just a few players. Instead, they have a team where each and every member contributes to the cause. Mumbai's title win this season is a classic example of that as neither the Orange Cap winner nor the Purple Cap one was from their team.
The same can be said about the title-winning campaigns of Chennai Super Kings, Sunrisers Hyderabad and Kolkata Knight Riders over the years. Everyone in the playing 11 was extremely useful in those years.
Further, having a settled group of players is also a vital element. Cast your mind back to the 2011 season, which was the first time that teams had to release their entire squads. That year, each team was allowed to retain a maximum of four players - something that only MI and CSK did.
The two sides did the same in 2014 and 2018. This has allowed them to maintain a core group of players and create a family type of spirit in the dressing room, and given the team an identity which makes integrating new players easier.
For instance, Mumbai's hero with the bat in the final was veteran Kieron Pollard. The 32-year-old is not a the peak of his career anymore and Mumbai's decision to retain him was questionable to say the least - especially after he only scored 133 runs in 8 matches last season.
Pollard's failures in the initial matches saw a lot of fans complaining about his place in the team, especially with Ben Cutting sitting on the bench. However, the management kept their faith in the Caribbean player and he played some vital knocks in crunch situations.
Another example of Mumbai's faith in their big players was the decision to give Lasith Malinga the last over in the final. Despite not having the best of days, he was trusted by Rohit Sharma when there were just nine runs to defend in the 20th over.
The Sri Lankan brought all of his experience to bear as he bowled remarkably to bring the IPL trophy back to Mumbai.
Long-time servants of the franchise regularly talk about the "family-like spirit" at Mumbai Indians. It is clearly an environment which has ensured that players are in the right frame of mind while playing for the team. This has also made the life of young players easier; it's no surprise that there is an emerging player standing out for the franchise like Rahul Chahar this season or the likes of Hardik Pandya, Krunal Pandya and Jasprit Bumrah in the past.
Similarly, it is no secret that Shane Watson was far from his best this season. It was fair to say that he was struggling to get bat on ball, having scored just 147 runs of the first 10 matches.
However, Watson smashed a match-winning knock of 96 from 53 balls against Sunrisers Hyderabad and brought the team back to winning ways after back to back defeats.
Questions were once against raised after the first qualifier, but Watson stepped up when it mattered the most. He scored a half-century against Delhi Capitals to take them into the final. Then in the final Watson once again almost single-handedly won the game despite playing with an injury.
In an interview, Watson admitted that he "would have been dropped in any other team by now." However, CSK's faith in the man who scored a century in the 2018 final paid off as he fought pain to nearly win them another summit clash.
The likes of Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja and Dwayne Bravo will further testify to the trust of the franchise in their senior players.
One other extremely successful team in IPL history is Kolkata Knight Riders, and they are another example of building the right environment for players to flourish in.
While this was a largely forgettable season for them, Andre Russell nearly fired them into the playoffs all on his own. It is worth remembering that the franchise decided to retain his services in 2017 when he was banned from cricket for a year over a doping violation, despite not being able to replace him or use his fee.
Similarly, the two-time champions supported Sunil Narine every step of the way when he was under investigation for a suspect bowling action.
When a team involved in such a competitive league shows so much faith in its players, they are bound to be more motivated and determined to ensure the team triumphs. As a result, both young and experienced players give their 100 percent in the tournament. Also, these senior players are the ones who are bound to step up in big matches under pressure.
Compare this to Delhi Daredevils releasing the likes of Russell and Glenn Maxwell before they hit their peak and without giving them a proper chance. These are among a host of players who misfired for them, but went on to perform exceptionally elsewhere. A change of fortunes is visible for the Capitals since they have started showing patience in young players like Rishabh Pant, Shreyas Iyer and Prithvi Shaw.
The story of Royal Challengers Bangalore is similar. Before the start of this season, they let Quinton de Kock leave after he failed to perform to potential last year. But he went on to be the top scorer for the champions this season.
It has become a common theme for talented players to struggle at RCB, with the likes of Shimron Hetmyer and Shivam Dube showing that again this season. Hetmyer was dropped after the fourth game and was only brought him back for the final game, when they were out of the reckoning.
RCB is clearly becoming a place where new signings are finding it tough to establish themselves. While a lot of people are bound to blame Virat Kohli's captaincy for this, it is worth noting that these issues existed even before the Indian captain took charge. They indicate a cultural problem which the owners and coaching staff have to solve.
Ultimately, the value of a strong team culture is there for everyone to see in a tournament where players from various countries come to play together. It starts with building a team that is not dependent on anyone, and extends to a player being given the freedom to give his best.
Further, it is crucial to have a set-up where all the individuals are valued and support each other on the field. When Bumrah consoled De Kock after the latter dropped a catch on the last ball of the penultimate over in the final, it was the perfect representation of what makes MI tick.
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