Getting the middle and end games right!

Ricky Ponting has shepherded Mumbai Indians well and even tuned up skipper Rohit Sharma.-PTI

After a sluggish start Mumbai Indians became well nigh invincible. S. Dinakar analyses.

He was hard, ruthless and winning came naturally to him. Ricky Ponting also comprehended a great sporting truth better than most. That winning brings confidence and confident teams win more. Indeed, belief and victories are intertwined.

Ponting’s days as a formidable batsman and an all-conquering captain count a lot. Could he inculcate this precious winning culture in the team he coached in the Indian Premier League?

The answer at the conclusion of a rather one-sided final at the Eden Gardens was an emphatic ‘Yes’. Mumbai Indians appeared a side transformed. This was a very different team from the one that seemed bereft of ideas in the first phase of the competition.

Ponting and his team were written off by many. Wonder what must have gone through Ponting’s mind then. He could have felt a sense of helplessness watching the proceedings from the dug-out.

Mumbai Indians, short of fuel and endgame skills, lost five of its first six matches in IPL-8. Simply put, the side was on the brink.

Ponting must have surely had a hard, honest talk with his men. Mumbai Indians’ subsequent transformation was astonishing. The team was now playing with a different mind-set.

And Rohit Sharma was captaining with greater authority. As Rohit admitted later, Ponting worked on his leadership skills. The Mumbai captain was batting with greater freedom too.

Earlier, the team wilted in pressure situations. Now, it was looking at them as opportunities to nail games. The trick was in the mind and it was here that Ponting made a difference.

Of course, Mumbai Indians, never short of funds, has the most illustrious support staff in cricket history. Legends Sachin Tendulkar and Anil Kumble guide the side as mentors. Shane Bond, fast and furious in his time, is the bowling coach and the iconic Jonty Rhodes handles the fielding department.

In former India all-rounder Robin Singh the side has an industrious and sincere assistant coach. But then, the buck stops with the chief coach and Ponting was in the line of fire when things went wrong early on. Then arrived the big turnaround.

Lendl Simmons and Parthiv Patel gave Mumbai Indians solid starts.-AKHILESH KUMAR

Actually, Mumbai Indians made a smart move at the beginning of the season. Ponting took over as coach and John Wright, so effective with the younger cricketers, assumed the talent scouting role for the franchise.

The 21-year-old Hardik Pandya, who was destructive with his cameos late in the innings and sent down lively medium pacers, was spotted by Wright. In the vital league game against Chennai Super Kings at Chepauk, he got his team out of jail with some clean, fearless hitting. The match proved the turning point for Mumbai Indians.

At the end of the day, Mumbai Indians’ second triumph in the competition was achieved through team-work and diligence. Crucially, players put their hands up in crunch situations.

As the tournament progressed, the team made the right moves and picked up steam. The opening partnership of the right-handed Lendl Simmons and southpaw Parthiv Patel powered the side to solid starts.

Simmons, with his fast hands and the ability to disrupt length, made a whopping 540 runs at 45.00 (strike rate 122.44). The little Parthiv, apart from donning the big gloves, also accumulated 339 runs at 26.07 (strike rate 137.80).

When the side had the cushion of a sound start, then the stroke-makers and big-hitters got the freedom to open out. Simmons and Parthiv set up the innings for Mumbai Indians.

The smooth-stroking Rohit’s batsmanship did not reveal the stress of captaincy. Rohit notched up 482 runs at 34.42 (strike rate 144.74), slicing open attacks with strokes of timing.

Kieron Pollard’s towering hits not just demoralised attacks but also lifted his team to imposing totals. The West Indian’s 419 runs at a staggering strike rate of 163.67 contained an incredible 28 sixes.

The strapping Pollard also employed his height effectively and varied his pace cleverly to bowl with success at the Death. A high impact player, he certainly was.

The much shorter Ambati Rayudu grew in stature with some timely innings in demanding situations, often shouldering the pressure and letting others bat around him before opening out himself. His 281 runs at 31.22 (strike-rate 145.59) were worth their weight in gold for Mumbai Indians. Critically, Rayudu reads situations admirably.

Lasith Malinga, recovering from fitness concerns, gradually found form as the tournament wore on. The slinger’s speed picked up and his reverse swinging yorkers were on target. Malinga had worthy support as well. Malinga’s 24 wickets were achieved at a laudable economy rate of 7.40.

Mitchell McClenaghan was Ponting’s choice. The Kiwi left-armer bounds in with purpose and gives it his all. His all-action, aggressive style was encouraged by the coach and the captain. The angle and trajectory of McClenaghan’s deliveries contrasted with those from Malinga and this made things tougher for batsmen. The New Zealander scalped 18 from just 12 games.

McClenaghan’s impressive support to Malinga plugged a hole in the Mumbai Indians’ attack. The Kiwi was sharp, took wickets when his side needed him to.

Harbhajan Singh bowled in an unhurried, calm fashion even in this hectic variety of cricket, underlining his growing maturity. He was slower through the air, relied chiefly on off-spin and was not averse to flighting. The quicker delivery was employed judiciously. His 18 wickets came at a worthy economy rate of 7.82. The off-spinner was on the mark.

Partnerships hold the key to any attack and left-armer Jagadeesha Suchith combined usefully with Harbhajan. Suchith is not a big spinner of the ball but was steady and foxed many batsmen when they played for the non-existent spin. The youngster has an essential attribute — control.

Mumbai Indians held on to its catches, fielded smartly with Rhodes’ eagle eyes on them.

The side also got another attribute right. Mumbai Indians peaked at the right time. A situation Ponting has been through many a time and would appreciate.