So close yet so far

So close yet so far. That, perhaps, sums up our season. In the end, it came down to just two hits. Alas, it wasn’t to be. Thus, our title defence was over.

The 2018 VIVO IPL was a season of two halves for Mumbai Indians. We went down fighting in five of our first seven games before registering four victories, including a hat-trick, to come excruciatingly close to a playoff berth. But as luck would have it, we couldn’t make the cut. One reckons the boys were hard done by, especially if you were to take into account the five last-over finishes. Had one of those games gone our way, we’d be celebrating our march into the playoffs.

Six wins and eight losses don’t do justice to the talent pool in the dugout, but having said that, players like Suryakumar Yadav, Evin Lewis, Ishan Kishan, Hardik Pandya, Jasprit Bumrah and Mayank Markande produced many an impactful display to win games and hearts alike.

Three losses and a win

The season began on an inopportune note as we lost to arch-rivals Chennai Super Kings in a humdinger at the Wankhede Stadium on April 7. We were in a seemingly commanding position after having reduced CSK to 118/8. Debutant Markande came to the fore with a three-wicket haul, including the scalp of MS Dhoni with a googly. But Dwayne Bravo had other ideas as we went down in a thriller.

If the opener was decided on the penultimate ball of the match, then our next fixture against Sunrisers Hyderabad on April 12 went down to the last delivery. Again, we came up short. This time, Markande went one better by claiming 4/23, with Mustafizur Rahman and Jasprit Bumrah also coming to the party. Deepak Hooda and Billy Stanlake kept their cool, though, as SRH won by a solitary wicket.

Mayank Markande spun a web around the Sunrisers in Hyderabad

Two days later, the boys played Delhi Daredevils in front of 22,000 children at our fortress. The Education & Sports For All (ESA) match was a super-hit in every sense of the word. If only we could have kept Jason Roy at bay. The Englishman hit an imperious 91 not out as DD chased the 195-run target on the last ball. It was heartbreaking to say the least because our top three batsmen — Yadav, Lewis and Kishan — batted phenomenally well to power us to 84 in the Powerplay. A total of 194/7 was eminently defendable, but Roy was on a different plane that afternoon.

A hat-trick of losses can deflate the most optimistic of individuals and groups. But the boys didn’t let any of that affect their plans as they strode purposefully into the Wankhede Stadium to take on Royal Challengers Bangalore on April 17. Rohit Sharma led from the front with a power-packed 94 off just 52 as MI finished with a mammoth 213/6. To score that many after losing wickets off the first two balls of the match was an accomplishment in itself. The bowlers made sure there would be no repeat offences as we beat RCB by 46 runs despite an unbeaten 62-ball 92 from Virat Kohli. Finally, we were on the board.

Rohit Sharma returned to form with a sublime 94

A Gowtham special and a batting collapse

We flew to Jaipur to meet Rajasthan Royals on April 22. This one, too, went to the last over. Needing 44 off 18, RR found a hero in K Gowtham who scored 33 off just 11. MI’s total of 168/7 seemed enough all along until Gowtham did the star turn. The boys returned home with a heavy heart, but it was all nice and cheery on April 24, the biggest birthday party of the year. Sachin Tendulkar turned a year older and wiser and the Wankhede sang in unison to make it even more special. We couldn’t have asked for a better performance from our bowlers who dismissed Sunrisers Hyderabad for just 118. But our celebrations were cut short as we folded up for a paltry 87 in 18.5 overs.

Away and happy

With five losses in six games, the boys set out to play three away games in the space of a week. The sweet taste of our twin wins against CSK in Pune and Kings XI Punjab in Indore was soured by a below-par performance against RCB in Bengaluru. Against CSK on April 28, Rohit Sharma came to the fore with an unbeaten 56 off just 33 as we made amends for our defeat in the season-opener. Sharma was calm and composed as MI made light work of the 170-run target. We suffered a stutter against Kohli & Co. on May 1 as the 168-run target proved beyond reach. Tim Southee starred for the host team as MI were restricted to 153/7. The boys pulled one back by getting the better of Kings XI Punjab in Indore on May 4. Five bowlers picked up a wicket each as we did well to keep KXIP to 174/6 at Holkar Stadium, a small and batsman-friendly ground. Yadav top-scored with 57 and four others played cameos as MI won by six wickets and an over to spare.

Suryakumar Yadav scored a fine fifty against KXIP in Indore

The double against KKR

The boys improved MI’s amazing head-to-head record against Kolkata Knight Riders by notching up two wins against Dinesh Karthik & Co. First, we defeated them by 13 runs in Mumbai on May 6 before registering a whopping 102-run win in Kolkata just three days later. Hardik Pandya made an unbeaten 35 and picked up 2/19 as we restricted KKR to 168/6 after posting 181/4. In the return leg at Eden Gardens, Ishan Kishan smashed an eye-popping 62 off 21 as MI made 210/6. Each of the six bowlers employed by skipper Sharma met with success as KKR were dismissed for 108 in 18.1 overs. That win also boosted our net run rate, which kept us in contention for a playoff berth right till the end and helped us climb to the fourth spot for the first time in this season. In fact, MI’s NRR — +0.317 — was the best among all eight teams.

Ishan Kishan punished KKR with a 17-ball fifty, the joint-highest by an MI batsmen

Mixed luck at home

It was now time to fly back home and meet RR in yet another crunch encounter. A 42-ball 60 from Evin Lewis and a couple of 30s from Yadav and Hardik helped us post 168/6 at Wankhede Stadium on May 13. But the night belonged to Jos Buttler, who scored a power-packed 94 not out off just 52 balls as RR won by seven wickets in exactly 18 overs. Three days later, KXIP visited. Kieron Pollard made a comeback after warming the bench for four games. The big man made a memorable return with a 23-ball 50 as MI posted 186/8. In reply, KL Rahul batted like a man possessed. His 60-ball 94, though, went in vain as MI won by only three runs on May 16. This was our sixth win of the season and put us in a very advantageous position with just one more round of games to follow.

Denied by DD

The boys flew to New Delhi high on confidence. But the bottom-placed team stunned one and all by getting the better of us in what turned out to be a cracker of a contest. Choosing to bat, DD finished with 174/4 on a seemingly dry and spinner-friendly surface. Then, their leg-spinners — Amit Mishra and Sandeep Lamichhane — came to the fore as MI fell short by 11 runs. Ben Cutting played a brilliant cameo, but his 20-ball 37 wasn’t enough as we lost another last-over thriller.

The team had its moments of brilliance throughout the season. There were a few uncharacteristic performances, too, but what hurt us the most were those close finishes. Had Lady Luck smiled on us once during those five humdingers, we’d be in the playoffs. Once there, the boys would have surely known what to do in order to go all the way. Alas, it wasn’t to be.

A word on Yadav, our most consistent performer with the bat this season. He was in possession of the Orange Cap on a few occasions. His tally of 512 runs in a season makes him the most successful uncapped Indian player in the history of the tournament. That he scored all those runs as an opener, a role he’s not used to essaying, made his achievement all the more incredible.

Lewis was another standout performer. With 382 runs at a strike-rate of nearly 140, he packed a punch at the top of the order. The left-hander from Trinidad & Tobago will only get better with time.

Our bowling unit fared very well, too. Hardik Pandya finished with 18 wickets. He also scored 260 runs to become one of the most successful all-rounder in the tournament this season. Jasprit Bumrah bowled yorkers and dot balls at will. He also picked up 17 wickets at an economy rate of under seven runs per over.Markande, Mitchell McClenaghan and Krunal Pandya also gave a good account of themselves.

This unit has all the makings of a champion unit. See you next season.