If you ask a newbie cricket fan to name the rudimentary ingredients that make a good T20 team, the answer would be good players, a good captain, an experienced management staff and an excellent team culture. Mumbai Indians tick all these boxes and a few more.
With five IPL trophies in their kitty, three of them coming in the last four years, Mumbai Indians have unequivocally become the most dominant franchise team in the history of T20 cricket, setting a new template for a successful team. They have set the benchmark so high that regardless of whether one is a Mumbai Indians fan or not, the franchise cannot be termed undeserving of their success.
IPL 2020 was the first time Mumbai Indians managed to defend their title, and they did so with elan. Their win percentage of 68.75 in the IPL this year was 15.81 percentage points higher than that of the second-best team in the competition. While batting, their run-rate of over nine was the best in the tournament while their bowling economy rate was just behind that of Sunrisers Hyderabad's.
So what makes Mumbai Indians tick? "It's not rocket science,” as the skipper Rohit Sharma said in the pre-finale press interaction.
The catch, however, is in the simplicity of that statement. That the Mumbai Indians skipper is so languid before the most important game of the year exudes his trust in the processes that have defined his team.
Mumbai Indians’ X-factors
In the IPL, most franchises build their teams around their four overseas superstars. India, as big a cricketing powerhouse it is, has seen a dearth of players in two key T20 positions: an accurate death-overs bowler and a sterling big hitter at number six or seven.
These four foreign players are thus used by teams to plug these crucial gaps in their roster. Andre Russell and Pat Cummins for Kolkata, Marcus Stoinis and Kagiso Rabada for Delhi Capitals, and Jofra Archer and Jos Buttler for Royals are tangible cases in point. Other teams also either started or ended their campaigns with similar combinations. Chennai Super Kings dominated in their palmy IPL days because Dwayne Bravo donned both these roles immaculately.
Mumbai Indians, on the other hand, are the solitary exception to this paradigm, as India’s top speedster and smasher, Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya respectively, are both Indian players.
Pandya was the second-best striker in IPL 2020, with a strike rate that was only behind that of his illustrious teammate Kieron Pollard. His 281 runs, including a blitzkrieg 60 off 21 against RR and the 14-ball 37* in the first qualifier, were more than instrumental in Mumbai Indians’ success in IPL 2020. For Bumrah, well no praise is high enough for him, so suffice to say he took 27 wickets at just 14.96.
Indian players filling these two key positions opens myriad opportunities that even allow the Mumbai Indians to use their overseas giants as supporting players. Bumrah gets more than able help from Trent Boult, and Pandya hunts in tandem with Pollard, making Mumbai Indians one of the fiercest sides in the IPL. Both Pandya and Bumrah have made Mumbai Indians' blue and gold glitter even more.
Mumbai Indians in comparison with other teams
Other teams in the IPL don't have the luxury that Mumbai Indians have. Kings XI Punjab had Mohammad Shami, who is possibly the only Indian replacement to Bumrah. However, their overseas finisher in Glenn Maxwell wasn’t up to the mark in IPL 2020 and was thus a liability during the campaign. Also, their success in the second half of the IPL 2020 season was largely made possible because of Arshdeep Singh’s inclusion as an Indian death-bowling alternative.
For RCB, Chris Morris lost steam after the first few games and so did his team. An ageing Bravo couldn’t lift the grizzled CSK in the IPL this year, even with the support of Sam Curran.
Russell faltered and KKR were worse off for that. For the Sunrisers, Rashid Khan played the role of strike bowler, with Jason Holder’s inspired inclusion coming too late in the tournament for the franchise. RR just couldn’t find any Indian bowler to support Jofra Archer.
The only team that followed the Mumbai Indians template closely was Delhi Capitals. The Capitals' strong Indian batting core allowed them to play two overseas finishers and an equal number of fine foreign fast bowlers. Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje certainly matched stride for stride with Bumrah and Boult, and Marcus Stoinis was not too far behind Pandya.
However, the lack of a good third fast-bowling option hurt the Capitals. In the final, Mumbai Indians’ third pacer, Nathan Coulter Nile, took two key wickets to back the strike bowlers’ opening spells. On the other hand, Delhi couldn’t find any support for Rabada, Nortje and Stoinis as every other bowler went wicketless.
For Mumbai Indians, Coulter Nile in the latter half and James Pattinson earlier in the tournament could perform their roles to perfection only because Jasprit Bumrah’s presence allowed them to be in the XI in the first place.
Mumbai Indians remained unbeaten against Shreyas Iyer’s Capitals, trouncing them in all four games in the season. It isn’t any coincidence that DC ringed their most changes during the tournament in that third fast-bowling position.
Mumbai Indians’ dominance in the IPL over the years
This hasn't been the Mumbai Indians' story in 2020 alone. In the last four seasons of the IPL, Hardik Pandya has struck at a whopping strike rate of 180. His troika with his elder brother Krunal Pandya and Pollard has been the engine room for Mumbai Indians.
On the bowling front, Boult came as the replacement for the yorker-specialist Lasith Malinga, who has been a major part of Mumbai Indians’ success in the IPL over the years. Bumrah has always been supported by two overseas fast bowlers, be it Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell McClenaghan or Jason Behrendorff - another example of foreign stars revolving around an Indian player.
The Pandya brothers and Bumrah were the early success stories for the Mumbai Indians' scouting team. These were followed by the unearthing of fledgling players like Yuzvendra Chahal, Kuldeep Yadav, Axar Patel and Surya Kumar Yadav. Mumbai Indians perhaps returned more to Indian cricket than it took from it.
While the scouts brought the raw talent to the fore, it was the team management that ran the mill for Mumbai Indians. Surya Kumar Yadav is the latest example of the Mumbai Indians' tactical acumen. He was underutilised in the KKR lineup before MI roped him at number three.
The results are there for everyone to see, as Yadav heaped the most runs in IPL 2020 by a one-down batsman. Quinton de Kock and Trent Boult as well became twice the players with Mumbai Indians than they were with their previous IPL franchises.
Captain Rohit Sharma is the final embellishment in Mumbai Indians’ robust set-up. His calmness and serenity allow the formation of a heady cycle of consistency. He backs his players as no one else does. This provides stability to his team, which in turn enhances team performance and ultimately leads to self-sufficiency.
Five trophies in arguably the toughest T20 league in the world is no mean feat. The fact that the last one came in the most closely-fought IPL season makes Mumbai Indians stand head and shoulders above every other IPL team, which speaks volumes of the team's pedigree.