A total reliance on bowling

It was Mumbai's night in Chennai on that October Sunday.-V. GANESAN

For a team that found runs so hard to come by, Mumbai was an unlikely CLT20 champion, and a large part of the credit — if not all of it — goes to the bowling department. Led by Lasith Malinga (10 wickets), three of Mumbai's bowlers found pride of place in the top six. Over to Kunal Diwan.

Mumbai Indians won its first title of any sort after struggling for the entire tournament with injuries and poor batting. It was nowhere in the reckoning when its greatest son withdrew from the Champions League Twenty20 and joined the extended crock-list of unavailable star players such as Zaheer Khan and Rohit Sharma. Not that the team had won anything at full-strength, the numerous instances in the IPL when it flattered to deceive being cases in point.

To worsen matters, the ODI axe fell on Harbhajan Singh a few days into the fortnight-long bonanza, and Mumbai's replacement skipper spent at least one media conference fending off a pack of press hounds as they preyed on his lack of international form and what it portended.

Not everybody was against the team. Rules were bent to allow it the luxury of an extra foreign player (five instead of the regular four), although Harbhajan sneeringly questioned how much of a “luxury” that had really been. Such was the sorry state of its batting that Mumbai's top-order managed just two half-centuries in six matches. In a batting festival attended merrily by Chris Gayle (257 runs at an average of 43, SR: 178), David Warner (328 runs at 109, SR: 172), Virat Kohli (232 at 46, SR: 146) and Jacques Kallis (223 at 74, SR: 121), Mumbai's top willow wielder (Kieron Pollard, 123 at 21, SR: 125) finished 16th on the run-getter's list — not the most ideal way to go about winning a Twenty20 tournament. For a team that found runs so hard to come by, Mumbai was an unlikely CLT20 champion, and a large part of the credit — if not all of it — goes to the bowling department. Led by Lasith Malinga (10 wickets, ER: 5.85), three of Mumbai's bowlers found pride of place in the top six. Medium-pacer Abu Nechim (8 wickets, ER: 7.5) and Harbhajan (7 wickets, ER: 6.3) were equally effective, if not by dint of pure statistics, then by the timeliness of their contributions.

As for Malinga, it wasn't just his slingers that made the difference. In Mumbai's opening game against Chennai Super Kings, the Lankan smashed three sixes in an 18-ball 37 to see an unlikely chase to conclusion. Another priceless cameo from Malinga's bat helped Mumbai seal a one-wicket win as Trinidad & Tobago choked in a low-scoring thriller.

A wash-out against Cape Cobras in Bangalore placed Mumbai on top of Group ‘A', without a convincing win to its name. A loss to New South Wales followed, but the five points it had scrounged — by hook or by crook or plain good fortune — were enough to seal a semifinal place. By this time, middle-order bat Suryakumar Yadav (found playing competitive cricket after being on the injury list) had been reinstated in the squad, and the relaxation to allow five overseas players in the team was withdrawn from Mumbai.

The semifinal against Somerset, the tournament's most unheralded side, was Mumbai's most convincing batting performance — barring the Bangalore wash-out — on a two-paced Chepauk wicket. Aiden Blizzard's fifty set up the innings nicely and cameos from Pollard and the local players — Yadav and R. Sathish — took the total to 160, a vertiginous mountain considering the nature of the wicket and the attack at Mumbai's disposal. Somerset responded strongly through its consistent middle order, but Malinga's double double-wicket burst — at the beginning and end of Somerset's innings — ensured for Mumbai a safe passage into the final.

Facing the deadly might of Royal Challengers Bangalore's batting in the summit clash was never going to be easy. But Harbhajan did himself, and his team, a huge favour by winning the toss and electing to bat. The rest was taken care of by the inherent bias that Chepauk has towards the team that sets a target, and by tight, thought-out bowling by Harbhajan, Yuzvendra Chahal and Malinga.

After the formality of the victory lap had been done with (performed at the behest of a frenzied Chennai crowd hollering for Sachin Tendulkar to step out on the turf), Harbhajan spoke to the media about how he motivated the injury-hit team by pep-talking younger players into realising their importance to the outfit.

“I always want to give the younger players a chance and not make them feel left out. I always tell them that they are as important to the team as a foreign player like Pollard is. Even in the IPL, we had tried a lot of youngsters and this tournament they really raised their performances.”

Heroes both... Shah Rukh Khan with the rampaging Lasith Malinga.-PTI

The stand-in skipper also admitted to having enjoyed captaining the side.

“Whatever Mumbai Indians has wanted me to do, I have given my best. Captaincy is all about management and getting the best out of players, to let every player feel as important as any other. Players make you good captain and bad captain. The boys have been very supportive,” he said.

Sitting by Harbhajan's side — his usual spot for all the media interactions he was summoned for — Malinga had to wait an inordinately long time for the first question to be thrown at him. When it was, the slinger minced no words, despite having the subject of discussion seated an arm's length away.

“A captain is only as good as his team. You can have the greatest captain, but unless players realise their individual roles, and stick by them, no captain is going to be successful. We won the tournament because everybody knew what they had to do, and it came off.”

If at all he considered the observation a slight on his captaincy, Harbhajan did not let on. He smiled it off. After all, he had pulled off something that even the greatest cricketer from Mumbai had failed to accomplish.