Mumbai Indians defied odds to qualify for the IPL 7 playoffs © IANS & PTI
Beaten, bruised and mocked. The defending champions of the Indian Premier League (IPL), Mumbai Indians (MI) lost their first five matches in the UAE-leg of IPL 2014. From that position, to even be in contention for the final four is dumbfounding. Shiamak Unwalla looks at the team that defied all odds to make it to the playoffs of IPL 7.
There is a certain romance about sports that even the sappiest of Mills and Boone novels can’t quite emulate. The thrill of coming back from the absolute depths of defeat to march forth to the final round of a tournament, is one such romantic journey.
When Mumbai Indians lost all their five matches in UAE during the first-leg of the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2014, even their staunchest of supporters would have had serious doubts about their chances of progressing to the top half of the IPL 7 Points Table. Then they came back to India, and in their first match at that peerless ground, Wankhede Stadium, they stunned the table-toppers Kings XI Punjab to win their first match. Of course, many attributed the loss to complacency on the part of Punjab.
Their next match, against the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), was marred by the huge fallout between Mitchell Starc and Kieron Pollard. Since RCB were under-performing as well, no one thought very much about that victory either. Then came the match against Chennai Super Kings (CSK) at Wankhede, where they had beaten CSK in every single match the sides had played at the ground till date. Chennai pulled off the improbable and again Mumbai were on the receiving end of a lot of flak for failing to defeat CSK in their own backyard.
Then came the match against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) at Cuttack. Robin Uthappa blazed to 80 as KKR won easily. Even the most optimistic of souls wouldn’t have given Mumbai a chance at that point. But then, quietly, Mumbai started to work their way up. Fans and experts alike had written them off entirely. The battle for the “final spot” in the top-four was supposed to be between Kolkata, Bangalore and the Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH). Chennai and Punjab had surely done enough to get through, and Rajasthan Royals (RR) were very comfortably placed as well.
Mumbai went on to defeat Rajasthan, Punjab and Delhi Daredevils (DD). Meanwhile, due to some inexplicable tactical decisions, Rajasthan felt that experimentation was the answer rather than sticking to a proven line-up. This inevitably resulted in their repeated failure, as they got stuck in a rut that saw them lose more matches than they won. They still had their noses ahead, but with the sudden resurgence of Kolkata, they were now in the fourth spot. Soon, RCB fell by the wayside. Hyderabad followed them out soon enough, till it boiled down to a scenario in which Mumbai had the slimmest of chances to qualify.
As it happened, they needed to chase down whatever Rajasthan scored in 14.3 overs to qualify. Yusuf Pathan had pulled off a miraculous innings just the night before, so there was precedent. But Sanju Samson and Karun Nair played out of their skins to help Rajasthan post a mammoth 189 for four. Chasing 190 in 20 overs is itself a great effort; to do it in under 15 overs is asking for the near impossible. What followed was what romantic fantasies are made up of. Corey Anderson, one of Mumbai’s biggest flops for the season, stepped up to play an innings of such brutal force, he overshadowed Glenn Maxwell’s assaults against Chennai earlier in the tournament. The drama in the match was palpable. The encounter had everything: protagonists battling it out, the anti-heroes trying to rain on Mumbai’s parade, a hero [Ambati Rayudu] falling just short of victory and breaking down in tears. And a sidekick [Aditya Tare] coming in to save the day at the very last moment.
With this win, Mumbai would have won over the hearts of a number of fans. The most remarkable aspect of their campaign is that throughout the last week or so, whenever a Mumbai representative spoke to the media, they mentioned that they were still in with a chance. That they weren’t heeded by most, would have made their qualification that much sweeter. Mumbai truly proved that the match isn’t over till the last ball is bowled.
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(Shiamak Unwalla is a reporter with Cricket Country. He is a self-confessed Sci-Fi geek and Cricket fanatic who likes to pass his free time by reading books, watching TV shows, and eating food. Sometimes all at the same time. You can follow him on twitter at @ShiamakUnwalla)