A team does not win four titles in the Indian Premier League without being tactically astute. Sure, recruitment is key. Of course, player talent is essential. But in a league where talent distribution evens out on paper for the most part, the team that has the ability to out-think their opponents ends up being more successful by design.

The 48-run win that Mumbai Indians registered against Kings XI Punjab in Abu Dhabi on Thursday was another piece of evidence that the defending champions are arguably the strongest tactical unit in the tournament.

Rohit Sharma and Co had their plans in place against Kings XI Punjab and executed them to perfection.

Rohit batting deep

The only phase that probably went in Kings XI’s favour was the powerplay in the first innings when they picked up two early wickets and restricted Mumbai to 41/2. But Rohit Sharma did not panic. As a batsman, he was timing the ball well and as a captain, he understood that he did not have to go at full tilt too early knowing what came after. What he did was to make sure the middle order was not exposed too early, batting till the 17th over, finishing with a 45-ball 70.

Calculated late onslaught

In the three matches before their game against Mumbai, Kings XI had got their bowling wrong (to put it mildly) in the death overs twice. That was the prime reason for their defeats against Delhi Capitals and Rajasthan Royals. Mumbai knew that, and decided to capitalise.

“We didn’t start really well, but we knew, the kind of attack Punjab has, we wanted to capitalise on that towards the back end. One of the set batsman had to bat through till the end and set a platform. Hardik and Pollard back themselves to get those runs in the end. They have done that on many occasions. It is nice to have them in form,” Rohit said.

It did not help that Punjab’s tactics were stranger than before. Sure, Sheldon Cottrell did well to bounce back from his hammering against Royals to register figures of 1/20. But if your primary overseas bowler is going to bowl out before the 15th and not contribute at the death, then you have problems. Especially, if that means you are going to bowl an off-spinner in the 20th over against Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya.

Krunal Pandya had a chuckle when he asked his brother Hardik after the match what he thought about Kings XI’s decision to bowl an off-spinner to him and Pollard in the 20th over. “It was mouthwatering that an offspinner was bowling the 20th over,” Hardik said. “Whoever missed had to stand at the non-striker’s end and just watch [the other person go hard]. That was me, I missed two balls but Pollard made the most of that.”

Even so, to score 89 runs in the last five overs for the second consecutive match speaks volumes about the batting firepower that MI possess.

And, for KXIP’s decision to bowl K Gowtham in the 20th, over to Sachin Tendulkar...

Krunal Pandya brought in early

Against CSK, he came in to bowl in the 7th over. Against KKR, the only over he bowled was the ninth. Against RCB too, he came in to bowl just after the powerplay was over (7th) with Rahul Chahar brought on in the first six. Known to be a man who does the job assigned to him more often than not, Krunal’s return of one wicket from the first three matches was a problem for Mumbai.

For the first time this season, against KXIP, he was asked to bowl in the powerplay and he delivered the goods. Containing the right-handed opening pair of KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal was going to be the key for Mumbai and the match-up of a left-arm spinner to the in-form batsmen was a smart tactic.

Krunal’s first over, the fourth of Punjab’s innings, took the early momentum away as he conceded just four singles. His second over, also in the powerplay, was even more impressive as he conceded just three and took the wicket of Karun Nair. Despite being hit for a few runs in his third by Nicholas Pooran, Krunal bounced back to finish with great figures of 1/27 in his four. In the back-end, Krunal brought out the “yorkers” as he fired in quick,full deliveries at Pooran and Maxwell.

Nicholas Pooran’s dismissal

It’s not often you get a running commentary about a certain tactic against a batsman from the sidelines and see that happening in real time. When MI bowling coach Shane Bond was saying that Nicholas Pooran’s strength was midwicket, James Pattinson ran in hard and delivered a full ball outside off stump that cramped the West Indies batsman for room, inducing the edge that was caught by Quinton de Kock. The match result was not really in doubt at that point but given what we have seen in the tournament before, Mumbai would have wanted Pooran’s wicket to make sure the two points were in the bag early. That wicket, as it turned out, pretty much sealed the deal.

Like Rohit said at the end, the captain looks really good when the bowlers execute their plans and that’s exactly what happened in Abu Dhabi on Thursday night.