On April 24, 2013, Rohit Sharma led Mumbai Indians for the first time, after incumbent Ricky Ponting stepped aside due to not being able to contribute with the bat. The move to hand over the captaincy to Rohit tilted the landscape of IPL, but what if Mumbai Indians had chosen a different candidate?
We know that Rohit, after taking over captaincy midway through the season, led Mumbai to their first-ever IPL title in 2013, after which he won three more titles in the next six seasons to immortalize himself as the most successful captain in the history of the tournament. But what if the Mumbai management had taken a detour and handed the captaincy over to a different candidate?
Having accumulated just 52 runs in the first half of the tournament at a dismal strike rate of 69.33, Mumbai Indians’ incumbent skipper Ricky Ponting decides to step aside - as both player and captain. However, Ponting only does so after handing over the captain’s armband to Dinesh Karthik, who he has identified as the club’s next long-term skipper.
With Karthik 27 years old, nearing his prime, and having had prior leadership experience, captaining the Tamil Nadu side, the move seems like a wise one and DK wastes no time in asserting his authority as skipper. Ahead of Mumbai’s clash versus Kolkata Knight Riders at Eden Gardens, DK gives the side a massive rehaul and drops a bombshell by announcing that he’d decided to do away with Sachin Tendulkar as a player, and instead only use the veteran as a mentor. The move infuriates Mumbai loyalists, but the new skipper explains that it’s the first step towards building a brighter and younger future, and also announces that he was dropping the underperforming Aditya Tare, Pragyan Ojha, and Ambati Rayudu.
With both incumbent openers gone, DK drafts Victorian Aiden Blizzard into the side to play the role of the aggressor, and, interestingly, promotes Rohit Sharma up to the order to pair the Australian. The duo have contrasting fortunes as while Rohit struggles to convert his starts - scores of 12, 14, 7, 18, 24, 16, and 19 in his first seven innings as an opener - Blizzard sets the tournament alight with extraordinary hitting and run-scoring, becoming the first batsman in the history of the game to score seven consecutive half-centuries in T20 cricket. Blizzard’s continued onslaughts sees Mumbai blaze through opponents and that coupled with the introduction of young Amitoze Singh in the middle-order sees MI blast their way to just their second-ever IPL final.
Come the final versus CSK, skipper DK takes another big call and drops all-rounder Rishi Dhawan to accommodate young Jasprit Bumrah, who’d played 2 group games with no success. The move turns out to be a tactical blunder as, apart from conceding 54 runs off his 4 overs, Bumrah also ends up dropping CSK’s talisman Murali Vijay who, thanks to the reprieve, goes on to post a mammoth 85. A total of 174 ends up being way too many for Mumbai, who, after an uncharacteristic failure from Blizzard, slump to a rather embarrassing 53-run defeat.
The Champions Trophy in England follows the IPL and after initially leaning towards opening with Rohit Sharma, team India, turned off by the right-hander’s performances up top for MI, instead zero-in on Murali Vijay as Shikhar Dhawan’s partner. India aren’t the only ones with a fresh opening pair as impressed by Blizzard’s onslaught with MI, the Aussies pick the Victorian in the Champions Trophy squad at the expense of Warner, whose numbers - an average of 30 after 38 games - weren’t enough to convince the selectors. Blizzard has a good start to his international career - he averages 64.50 in the CT - but it does not help Australia’s cause as India end up winning the tournament unbeaten.
Having lost to India in the final of the Champions Trophy, the Aussies, five months later, have a chance to take revenge in the series decider at Chinnaswamy, but a double-century from Murali Vijay crushes their souls. However, with no light at the end of the tunnel, with the team 1-2 chasing 384, Blizzard produces arguably the greatest knock in ODI history and smashes a mind-bending 128-ball 247. Blizzard’s knock brings the equation down to 5 needed off 6 balls with 2 wickets in hand, but with victory in sight, the last two Australian batsmen are skittled out by debutant Abu Nechim, who inserts a dagger into the Aussies’ hearts.
But...where did Nechim come from? Among the changes made by DK were drafting a 24-year-old Nechim into the side in place of Munaf Patel and Kulkarni, and the youngster’s impressive IPL - 13 wickets at ER of 6.20 - which came on the back of a solid Vijay Hazare Trophy - 14 wickets @ ER of 4.02 for Assam - made it impossible for the selectors to ignore Nechim.
Sold on Nechim’s performance in IPL 2013, Mumbai use the RTM on the youngster in the mega auction ahead of IPL 2014, but let go of both Bumrah and Chahal, who they feel will never cut it at the highest level. Both Chahal and Bumrah are snapped up for their base prices by SRH and RCB respectively. However, RCB’s base-price purchase does not end there. Greedy to establish themselves as batting powerhouses, the Reds, who already have both Gayle and Kohli, also acquire the services of Warner, whose stocks have immeasurably fallen down post the Joe Root incident.
CSK retaining Vijay enables Delhi to purchase McCullum, and the Men in Yellow, therefore, use the extra overseas slot to land the audacious coup of Mitchell Johnson. Vijay is not the only Indian opener in CSK’s rank as the club, also, interestingly, buyback wicket-keeper Wriddhiman Saha, in the thought of deploying him up-top.
Glenn Maxwell’s surge propels Punjab into the play-offs as the most dominant side, but that is the farthest they can get as a stunning 30-ball century from Suresh Raina in the eliminator at Wankhede - which came on the back of a mix-up; a Murali Vijay run-out - puts an end to their hopes. Entering the final as hot favourites, a century from Saha puts CSK in the driver’s seat, but for the second time in three years, they are left heart-shattered by an unlikely hero from the KKR side, this time Mayank Agarwal. A 94 from Agarwal sets up the chase for KKR, who clinched their second IPL title on the back of Piyush Chawla battering CSK’s Mitchell Johnson in the penultimate over.
Fast forward a year to IPL 2015, CSK and KKR are once again deemed favorites for the title, but the season sees two unlikely dominators in the form of RCB and SRH. Kohli rectifies his mistake from 2014 of not playing Jasprit Bumrah by pitting the youngster alongside Mitchell Starc, and together the duo form the most devastating pace attack in the entire competition. That is not the only devastating partnership in the tournament as KL Rahul’s chemistry with Shikhar Dhawan sees him endure his breakthrough season, in his first year as an opening batsman. Both RCB and SRH make easy work of all opponents in the competition and set up a ‘final’ date with each other at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata.
An 86 from KL Rahul and a horrid final over from Shane Watson sees SRH post a mammoth 208 in their first innings, but bludgeoning hits from Warner and Gayle, in response, sees RCB race off to 114/0 in 10.2 overs. A victory for RCB, at this stage, seems imminent, but a magic googly from SRH leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal - which stumps Warner - turns the game on its head. An implosion of the highest order follows the dismissal of Warner and, astonishingly, RCB, somehow, end up losing the game by 8 runs to hand Sunrsiers the title.
A dejected Kohli, who’s scored 973 runs in the season, is named Man of the Tournament, but that tally, however, is not enough for him to win the orange cap, which is clinched by Mumbai Indians’ Aiden Blizzard, who a week ago became the first player to breach the 1000-run barrier in the IPL. That is not the only individual accolade for bottom-placed Mumbai Indians as, ironically, they also boast of the purple cap holder in the form of Nechim, who finished the season with 27 wickets. Two MI players walk back together knowing their journey has just begun, for both cricketers have Test cricket waiting for them on the other side; for Nechim, the Bangladesh tour and the extended home season and for Blizzard, the Ashes.
Nechim and Blizzard walking away clear the stage for Rohit Sharma, who walks forward with pride to collect the IPL Trophy, having just led his side Sunrisers Hyderabad to their maiden IPL title.