Updated: Feb 19
Despite the absence of fans, the 2020 Indian Premier League has been one of the most dramatic, entertaining, and unpredictable seasons to date. The race for the playoffs, too, was a remarkably tight affair, with net run-rate deciding two of the four spots.
This season has also proven, yet again, that Mumbai Indians are the tournament's best side, and by quite a distance, too. Rohit Sharma's men comfortably qualified for the next stage of the competition with 18 points, finishing top for the third time in the last four years. They have also won the competition more times (4) than any other team and all of those victories have come in the past seven years.
Mumbai have now set their sites on title number five as they face Delhi Capitals in the final on Tuesday. The current champions are a winning machine and the team to beat. But why are they so efficient and how did they get to where they are now?
Strong Indian core
In order to be successful in T20 and IPL cricket, in particular, a strong and reliable core of home-grown players is essential. This is an area in which Mumbai excel. Just over five years ago, the trio of Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya, and Krunal Pandya was identified by a six-person scouting network, formed in 2010, as players who could form the backbone of their side for years to come. All three have offered Mumbai world-class balance and quality to their side.
They are not the only ones over the years, either. Captain Sharma, purchased in 2011, has been a legendary performer at the top of the order with his classy strokeplay, while also acting as a calm and assured skipper. Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh's experience and guile gave Mumbai a reliable spinning option for a number of years, while Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan have proven to be underrated yet valuable assets in recent years.
Mumbai identified the importance of having a strong group of Indian players and have placed them as the centerpiece of their team. This, in truth, makes perfect sense as Indian players form seven of the starting eleven and are available for the entirety of the tournament, fitness permitting. One only has to look at the struggling fortunes of Rajasthan Royals, a side overly reliant on overseas players and light on strong Indian talent, as an example of what can go wrong when a franchise does place improving core home-grown players as a priority.
Smart overseas recruitment
Mumbai's excellent group of core Indian players gives them flexibility when it comes to overseas signings. Since their maiden IPL title in 2013, they have favoured using that space to improve their seam attack. While Mumbai have often gone with an Indian spinner, whether that be Harbhajan, Mayank Markande, or most recently Rahul Chahar, they have often preferred to go with overseas seamers, more specifically left-arm overseas seamers, to partner Bumrah. Trent Boult, Mitchell McClenaghan, Mustafizur Rahman, Mitchell Johnson and Jason Behrendorff have all played key roles in giving Mumbai variety in their attack. Boult, Johnson, and Behrendorff have been mightily effective in the powerplay, while McClenaghan and Mustafizur offered a lethal option at the death.
The more established and experienced pair of Kieron Pollard and Lasith Malinga, two T20 specialists in their own right, have given Mumbai even more firepower. Pollard, one of the most successful T20 players of all time, brings brute force to the middle order and another seam-bowling option, while Malinga is an expert death bowler and a genuine wicket-taker at all times.
At the top of the order, Quinton De Kock provides the fireworks with his bullish strokeplay, which gives Mumbai impetus in the powerplay, and a reliable specialist gloveman behind the stumps. JP Duminy, Jos Buttler, and Corey Anderson have also been key performers in triumphant campaigns over the years.
World-class bowling attack
While T20 is known for the fireworks that batsmen bring, the importance of a strong bowling attack is arguably even greater. Another great domestic T20 side, Perth Scorchers, won three of the four Big Bash campaigns in Australia since 2013/14 by outbowling, rather than outhitting the opposition. At one point during this period, they had won six out of ten matches defending totals of 150 or less - this was a comfortably better ratio than the next best team, Melbourne Stars (one out of five).
Mumbai Indians possess similar qualities. While their batting does not always fire, their bowling attack gets them out of trouble more often than not. The aforementioned overseas left-armers have been deadly in the powerplay and this season has seen more of the same, particularly with Boult - no bowler has taken more wickets during this period of the match than the New Zealander (14), according to Stat Doctor. In addition, Boult has induced 35 false shows in the powerplay this season - only Deepak Chahar, Pat Cummins, and Mohammad Shami have managed more.
While Mumbai have been able to successfully attack with their overseas seamers in the powerplay, they have also proven to be exceptional at the end of the innings. This is largely down to having two of the best death bowlers in the history of T20 cricket - Malinga and Bumrah. Since 2013, the pair have an economy rate under nine in the last four overs of an IPL innings, according to CricViz - only Mitchell Starc, Mustafizur, and Chris Morris have lower of bowlers to have delivered at least 200 balls in the tournament during this period.
The ability of Mumbai's attack to take early wickets, put teams under pressure, and restrict the opposition at the back end of an innings not only reduces the pressure on their batsmen but also increases their chances of winning more consistently. Since 2013, Mumbai have won 63% of the time when chasing, and 56% of the time when batting first, according to CricViz.
Finally, unlike several teams in the IPL, Mumbai have found the perfect balance to their side. The all-round consistency of Pollard and the Pandya brothers has given Sharma and his side depth with the ball, as well as devastating middle-order hitters, particularly at the back end of the innings. This has also given the likes of Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan opportunities to express themselves higher up the order which, combined with the experience and quality of De Kock and Sharma at the top, has given Mumbai a near-perfect, versatile blend of batsmen.
As mentioned before, Mumbai's world-class bowling attack, which features specialists at the start, end, and even middle of an innings has made them adaptable to almost any situation and type of conditions. As a result, it is little surprise that they have backed up their sensational home form at the Wankhede Stadium in previous seasons by dominating another IPL campaign without that advantage in the UAE. This is a side at the top of their game in both batting and bowling departments and have been built to win anywhere at any time.
At the moment, no side comes close to matching their dominance.