Apart from Sunrisers Hyderabad, each of the teams that are part of the playoffs in the IPL ended their league campaigns with a defeat. And in the days since, as they endeavoured to lift their games when it matters most, the focus has shifted to more sinister matters away from the field.
New anti-corruption measures were already in place by the time the two teams arrived for practice in blast-furnace heat at the Feroz Shah Kotla on Monday (May 20), and the sense of the occasion having been hijacked was clearly playing on Rohit Sharma's mind.
"Everybody here is professional cricketer," he said tersely when asked how he would motivate his Mumbai Indians team for the qualifier against Chennai Super Kings on Tuesday. "We have got a more important job here than thinking about all that. We are here on a mission, and we certainly don't want to get distracted by what is happening. We have got a big job on our hands, to win the trophy. So we are all concentrating on what we need to do - the planning, the strategy and stuff like that."
Rohit's captaincy has been one of the highlights of a strong season for Mumbai, who finished behind Chennai in the table only on net run-rate. The next step is to make the final, something they have done only once, back in 2010. Their conquerors on that occasion? Chennai.
"When it came to me, it was a huge challenge but I was ready," said Rohit, ahead of a practice session at the Kotla. "It didn't come as a surprise to me, because for the last two years I have been the vice-captain. I was in the loop when it comes to taking responsibility. It came at the right time, I feel, and it has certainly helped my batting a lot. I'm understanding the game more than what I used to." (Read: Chennai Super Kings vs Mumbai Indians preview)
Along the way to 11 wins, Mumbai have also coaxed some great performances out of two men whose best years seemed to be behind them. "He has been brilliant," said Rohit of Mitchell Johnson, who has led the way for Mumbai with 22 wickets. "He has been getting those early breakthroughs for us which is very important in this format. If he can continue what he has been doing, it will really be great. He has got experience with him, and is probably the best bowler in the tournament."
There was plenty of praise for Harbhajan Singh as well - "Getting 19 wickets in the tournament is something that we have been looking forward to. His bowling has certainly helped us reach here, and his batting also."
Mumbai won all eight home games, but were vulnerable on the road, though that didn't unduly faze Rohit given that Chennai were also playing away from their Chepauk stronghold.
"I don't believe in the home-and-away thing," he said. "At the end of the day, you have to play good cricket. If we can up the ante by ten percent in whatever we have been doing - batting, bowling and fielding - I am sure that the results will fall into place. I don't think Chennai have a good away record either. There won't be home-crowd advantage for any of the games."
Both Mumbai's previous playoff encounters against Chennai have ended in defeat. Rohit, however, preferred to focus on what had happened earlier this season. "I am not doubting that they are a very good team," he said. "So be it. We just need to up whatever we have been doing by ten percent. We have beaten them in the league phase in both the games, so obviously the pressure will be on them."
Chennai have shown in the past that they can handle it. Mumbai haven't. Rohit and his team can only hope that Tuesday brings a reversal of fortune.
Story first published on: Tuesday, 21 May 2013 11:20 IST