Khadoos' is a term often associated with cricketers from Mumbai. It is said that players from the city, and the team as such, never give up and fight till the very end. Mumbai Indians might have only one player from Mumbai, Rohit Sharma, in their first choice XI, but the description appeared apt for the franchise in the Pepsi Indian Premier League 2015. After starting the tournament with a string of losses, Mumbai ended spectacularly well to become the third team, after Chennai Super Kings and Kolkata Knight Riders, to lift the title twice.
In 2014, they started their campaign with five consecutive losses before going on to finish fourth in the IPL, and failed to make it beyond the qualifying stages in the subsequent Champions League Twenty20. And when they started this season with four straight losses, it appeared as if the bad times were about to get longer.
However, just as they had done last year, Rohit's men turned things around dramatically, winning seven of their last eight games to storm into the play-offs. It was the sixth time in as many years that Mumbai had made it to the final four and statistically became the second-most consistent side in the tournament after Chennai Super Kings.
One of the biggest reasons for the turnaround is that Mumbai have shed their over-dependence on individuals. Their batting strength has often been a reflection of their captain's form while the bowling always looked up to Lasith Malinga. The start this year was no different. Rohit opening the batting and Aaron Finch's poor form in the initial matches left the middle order with a big void. Malinga, who had an indifferent World Cup prior to the IPL, was nowhere near his best.
Mumbai were struggling to identify a proper combination but a few forced changes turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
The inexperienced middle order forced Rohit to shift to No. 4 and bring in Parthiv Patel at the top, while injuries to Finch and Corey Anderson opened the doors for Lendl Simmons and Mitchell McClenaghan. By then, Mumbai had lost five of their first six matches, but, importantly, they arrived at a settled unit in the process.
McClenaghan gave the early wickets, Harbhajan Singh consistently provided steadiness in the middle overs and Malinga gradually got back to his best in the death overs.
Similarly in the batting line-up, Simmons and Parthiv gave quick starts and allowed the likes of Rohit Sharma and Kieron Pollard to play their natural games. Simmons in particular showed why he should never have been dropped to accommodate Finch and went past Rohit as their highest run-getter, despite playing three games less.
With two overseas slots going to McClenaghan and Malinga, Mumbai needed their Indian batsmen to step up. Ambati Rayudu and Parthiv did just that and with every passing game, Mumbai found a new match-winner. They even had a new hero in Hardik Pandya.
Pandya, the 21-year-old Baroda allrounder, turned out to be one of the finds of the season and provided Mumbai with another powerful option in the lower order, playing crucial knocks against Chennai and Kolkata towards the end of the league stage.
The result: Mumbai's losing streak quickly turned into a winning run to make it to the play-offs - something that seemed a far way away three weeks earlier.
Mumbai were perhaps a tad lucky to finish second in the league stages; Royal Challengers Bangalore and Rajasthan Royals, who had better net run-rates, were affected by a few washouts. Mumbai had an extra victory but Rajasthan and Bangalore had one fewer loss. A large part of the luck, however, was their own doing.
And in case there were some who still put their position in the table down to luck, they answered them in style in the first Qualifier, thrashing Chennai at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai.
In many ways, the 2015 season was a challenge for Mumbai after a year that saw them lose the momentum gained in 2013. They have overcome the challenge in the best way possible.