Let’s start with this stat: As Mumbai Indians won their fifth Indian Premier League title and the 2020 season came to a close in Dubai on Tuesday, the top runscorer for their side this season was Ishan Kishan (516 runs) and third on the list was Suryakumar Yadav (480 runs) with South Africa captain Quinton de Kock splitting the two uncapped Indian players.

Take any batting order in the IPL, from any season, and you will find at least one chink in the armour. There will always be that one area of vulnerability – be it at the top, in the middle or lower down the order – which opponents will look to exploit. This weakness (and by extension, how teams cover it up) often becomes one of the defining factors in the team’s campaign. It can make or break a season.

This year’s IPL was no different, each team had to overcome this challenge. For Delhi Capitals, loss of early wickets was a concern after the first 10 matches. For Sunrisers Hyderabad, lack of firepower in the middle order continued to be an issue. For Royal Challengers Bangalore, AB de Villiers struggled for partners to finish strong.

For Kolkata Knight Riders, Eoin Morgan was forced to shoulder more responsibility than he would have liked. For Kings XI Punjab, KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal and Chris Gayle did almost all of the lifting. For Chennai Super Kings, Faf du Plessis fought a lone battle for the most part. And for Rajasthan Royals, a major portion of the season was spent playing musical chairs with the order.

It is, perhaps, the nature of the tournament which doesn’t allow teams to find a settled batting order easily. The cap on overseas players, budget restrictions at the auction, and limited preparation time as a group means teams are invariably left with a blind spot. Each team will have stars in the lineup, but there will always be a spot or two which won’t inspire much confidence.

Invincible batting lineup

At the start of IPL 2020, for Mumbai Indians, this comparative weakness was in the upper middle order. In Rohit Sharma and Quinton de Kock, they had two world-class opening batsmen. And in Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya, they had the most devastating duo for the death overs. The one area which could have been shaky, which opponents would have looked to benefit from, was the one after the opening slots.

However, in Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan, Mumbai Indians found players that turned their already powerful batting order into an invincible one. Yadav and Kishan, the only ones in Mumbai’s batting order to have not played international cricket at the senior level, performed exceptionally throughout the season and played a key role in MI winning their record-extending fifth IPL title.

While Yadav scored 480 runs in 16 innings, with a strike-rate of 145.01 and an average of 40.00, Kishan amassed 516 runs in 13 innings, with a strike-rate of 145.76 and an average of 57.33.

Such was their dominance in the middle order that it wouldn’t be unfair to say that Mumbai Indians, this season, had the most complete batting lineup that any team has ever had in the history of the IPL. There simply wasn’t any weakness, which reflects in the consummate ease with which they strolled their way to the title.

Indeed, Yadav and Kishan, the two players with the least pedigree in Mumbai Indians’ batting order, produced a partnership that turned out to be one of the defining stories of IPL 2020.

Bossing the middle order

Yadav, of course, came into IPL 2020 as a proven match-winner in the shortest format. But despite his heroics in domestic cricket for Mumbai and in the past for KKR, not many would’ve expected him to boss MI’s middle order the way he did. The right-hander had a swagger and calmness about him that was unmissable. He looked unfazed no matter the situation.

The standout feature of Yadav’s batting has to be his range of strokes. From the ramp-shots, to the drives, to the sweeps, to the pulls and scoops, he can score runs all the around park and maintain a healthy strike-rate without taking risks. The confidence with which he played through the middle overs would set the innings up nicely for the likes of Pollard and Pandya.

With Yadav at the all-important No 3 position, Mumbai Indians had a batsman who was willing to take responsibility. The 30-year-old made a number of crucial contributions but his best came against RCB in Abu Dhabi. His unbeaten 79 and uber-cool celebration at the end of the match will be one of the lasting memories of this year’s IPL.

As Rohit Sharma said after the match about their mix-up in the final that ended up with Surya sacrificing his wicket: “The kind of form Surya was in, I should have sacrificed my wicket.”

Kishan, on the other hand, was a revelation this season. The former India Under-19 captain had shown flashes of brilliance in the earlier four seasons that he featured in the IPL, but the manner in which he took the bull by the horns in IPL 2020 was incredible.

The 22-year-old wasn’t a part of Mumbai’s playing XI in the first two games but once he replaced Saurabh Tiwary, he owned that No 4 spot. He came to the crease each time with a clear mind and attacked bowlers. The remarkable aspect about his batting was the purity with which he struck the ball.

Kishan showed he meant business by smashing a 58-ball 99 in his very first innings of the season. And from there on, there was no turning back. He hit four half-centuries and remained unbeaten as many times. The young left-hander held his own in the playoffs too, scoring 55* in Qualifier 1 and 33* in the final to guide Mumbai to victories.

Champion team, champion players

It’s difficult to ascertain just how much credit the Mumbai Indians setup deserves for Yadav and Kishan’s success. After all, the five-time IPL champions have an uncanny knack of picking players and bringing the best out of them.

Both these players did spend periods in obscurity while playing for other teams, so the MI management must have surely done something right to bring about this consistency.

The men in blue and gold were head and shoulders above every other team this season. And Yadav and Kishan’s performance has ensured they don’t have a lot to worry about going forward, should they so choose.