While the most successful Indian Premier League side in history, Chennai Super Kings grappled with their share of controversies and bad press, defending champions Mumbai Indians were greeted with some good news from Kieron Pollard's bat. Out of action for the last six months, the burly West Indian all-rounder missed the ICC World T20 but returned to action with a big bang this week.
The West Indian power-hitter cracked a 169-ball 111 in the Carribean first class competition to lead Trinidad & Tobago to a 145-run win over Jamaica. It was his second match after being down with a knee injury.
Mumbai Indians look set to launch a strong defence of their title, which they won after a crushing victory over Chennai Super Kings last year. Without Sachin Tendulkar, who will be the team's icon this season, Mumbai will bank on skipper Rohit Sharma, Michael Hussey, Corey Anderson and Ambati Rayudu and Pollard to take the tournament by the scruff of its neck. Mumbai start versus former champions Kolkata Knight Riders in Abu Dhabi on April 16. (Click here for IPL Fixtures)
Mumbai's strength has always been their all-round game. Strong starts by their openers, followed by a reliable middle-order and an explosive lower half have ensured that Mumbai Indians are always one of the sides to beat. No one was surprised when they lifted the trophy last year and they owed a lot of that success to Pollard. The Trinidadian had his best IPL season last year, aggregating 420 runs from 18 games, besides pocketing 10 wickets.
The 26-year-old Pollard attracted attention during the Champions League Twenty20 with his blitzkrieg for Trinidad & Tobago in 2009 and several IPL sides, already on the look-out for an aggressive lower-order finisher, decided to go hammer and tongs after him in the next auctions. Mumbai persevered hard and after a tie-breaker, it was decided that the dangerous Pollard would go to the Mukesh Ambani-owned side. (Top five controversies ahead of IPL 7)
But what followed would have disappointed a lot of their fans -- 273 runs from 14 games in 2010, 146 runs from 16 games in 2011 and a marginally better 220 from 14 in 2012. These were not the kind of numbers that had prompted the Ambanis to invest so heavily on Pollard, one of the most promising young talents in the world.
The perseverance paid off for Mumbai. Many also felt that Pollard needed to bat higher up the order and bowl a lot more. But the team management had their own school of though and they stuck to it and the expensive gamble finally paid off three years later, when the mighty Trinidadian sent shivers down the spines of bowlers in IPL 6. Kieron Pollard had arrived.
Things were looking up for Pollard and how. Months after playing a crucial role in Mumbai Indians' IPL triumph, the West Indian was at it again, picking up three wickets in the final to set up their maiden Champions League T20 victory last October. However, a knee injury ruled Pollard out of the West Indies' tour of India and left the Caribbean limited overs side crippled through a critical series against New Zealand and the recently concluded ICC World T20.
But this is yet another fine comeback by a man. What would delight Mumbai Indians is that Pollard had planned his comeback well and put IPL on top of his priority list.
"We're the defending champions so the pressure is always there. You always want to win that tournament. For me, it's to do whatever is required, it's Twenty20 cricket, it's not every day you're going to come off so it's what the team requires at that point in time and adjust their game to suit.
I'm three-dimensional in terms of batting, bowling and fielding so I just want to go out there and do my best."
After the CL T20 final against Rajasthan Royals in Delhi, Pollard was out of active cricket before returning for a first-class game against Combined Campuses and Colleges last month. His first priority was to last the length of the game and having done that, Pollard decided to test his batting skills on Jamaica's hapless bowlers.
"Not playing cricket for six months, I was really disappointed but these things happen. I got injured and coming back, I just wanted to do my best.
"The first game, I didn't set myself any goals, just being on the cricket field and lasting that four days, and I actually did that. And the second game, I set myself to get a big [score] and it happened, thank God for that. I've been through a lot but these things happen," Pollard said.
Who knows what things might have been like had it not been for the sensational last season. After those runs and wickets, there was no way Mumbai Indians were going to let go of their blue-eyed boy and Pollard became one of the five players to be retained in the squad. Now, days ahead of their title defence, Pollard does not want to invite further pressure on himself and stressed on the need to realise that in T20 cricket, an off day is never too far away.
Tendulkar maybe history, but Mumbai Indians' challenge will not be devoid of any teeth, with the likes of Pollard, Lasith Malinga and the feisty Harbhajan Singh certain to make a royal fight out of it.