For a team to win a lengthy competition like the Indian Premier League, it needs to have a number of match-winners in its ranks. Games come thick and fast over the near two-month duration of the tournament and players from every department need to shoulder responsibility consistently. There can’t really be any weak link.
For several years now, Mumbai Indians has been a team that has had great balance. In their journey of claiming a record four titles, they’ve had the stars in Rohit Sharma, Kieron Pollard and Lasith Malinga, but they’ve also had quality players around them to absorb pressure and make key contributions.
This season too, MI have shown in the first few weeks that they don’t rely on select players. Skipper Rohit starred in the first win against Kolkata Knight Riders, Pollard turned back the clock with a brutal knock against Kings XI Punjab, Quinton de Kock found form versus Sunrisers Hyderabad, and Suryakumar Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah stepped up in the win over Rajasthan Royals on Tuesday.
And the rest of the cast has been playing its part, too. Ishan Kishan was sensational in the Super Over defeat to Royal Challengers Bangalore, and the likes of Hardik Pandya, Krunal Pandya, Trent Boult, James Pattinson and Rahul Chahar have all shown their caliber at one point or another in the six games so far. This is why the defending champions are at the top of the points table at the moment and are again looking like strong contenders for the title.
In the win over RR, it was the turn of two players who hold key positions in the MI setup to find their best. Suryakumar at No 3 is the bridge between the explosive openers and finishers, while Bumrah is the spearhead of the bowling attack. And in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, they both did what they had been threatening to do for a while.
Surya shows his full range
With 424 runs at 32.61, he was the second-highest run-scorer for Mumbai Indians last season (12th overall). He followed that up by finishing as the third-highest run-getter in the 2019-’20 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (392 runs at 56.00).
Suryakumar is in a phase in his career where he’s striking the ball as well as he ever has. It showed in the 47 he got against KKR and the 27 against SRH, but he couldn’t convert those starts and found ways to throw his wicket away.
But versus RR, the 30-year-old right-hander showcased his full range as a batsman. Walking in during the powerplay, he found his groove with delightful drives for boundaries, none more so than the inside-out ones over cover. And once it was time to go full throttle, he brought out the scoops he’s always been known for. The six he hit over the ‘keeper after getting hit on the head by a Jofra Archer bouncer was perhaps the shot of the match.
“I felt it [a big knock] was coming in this game,” he said after picking up the player of the match award for his 47-ball 79.
“This time I just wanted to bat till the end. I’m loving the added responsibility at the top of the order. I’ve just been told to play my game and express myself and I did just that today. The lockdown helped me with my off-side game rather than just my leg-side pick-up shot.”
Bumrah does his thing
There are certain players who’re expected to win games for their team single-handedly. They may not necessarily be out of form but because of the reputation they carry, their performances are considered underwhelming if they don’t steal the spotlight. Bumrah is one such player.
The right-arm quick has had a couple of poor games so far – he returned with 1/43 against Chennai Super Kings and 0/42 against RCB. He bounced back with 2/18 versus KXIP but he hadn’t yet hit his top gear.
Unfortunately for Rajasthan, the irrepressible Bumrah that we’re all familiar with decided to turn up on Tuesday. The 26-year-old took the new ball and ended up picking four wickets for just 20 runs, which is the best spell by any bowler in the tournament so far and his personal best-ever in the IPL.
Bumrah removed RR skipper Steve Smith in his first spell and returned later to get rid of Rahul Tewatia, Shreyas Gopal and Jofra Archer is a span of 11 deliveries. He was fast, accurate, mixed his variations well, and bowled with a confidence that augurs well for Mumbai Indians.
“Jasprit genuinely wanted to take the new ball. He was sensational,” said MI bowling coach Shane Bond in the post-match press conference.
“He wanted to back his yorkers and go back to his strengths and use his bouncers as he normally does. I know traditionally through the IPL, he gets better and better as the tournament goes on. He is a key member for us. Obviously, the way we used him today with the new ball, we will use him like that throughout the tournament against the rest of the teams.”
After showing rustiness in the defeat to CSK first up, Mumbai Indians are gradually turning into a well-oiled machine. The threat they pose can be summed up by what their captain had to say after the RR win: “We have a lot of quality in the squad. We keep giving each one of them a lot of confidence. They’re all talented and can take the game away from any team on their day. Luckily, it’s all falling into place.”