HYDERABAD: Veteran paceman Mitchell Johnson, who took key wickets in Mumbai Indians’ IPL final triumph over Rising Pune Supergiant, has been hailed as an influential force off the field too by captain Rohit Sharma. The 35-year-old Australian struck two crucial blows in the final over to drive Mumbai to a one run victory in Hyderabad on Sunday.
Pune, who required 11 to win off the 20th over, buckled as Johnson snagged two successive wickets, including a dangerous Steve Smith on 51. Johnson (3-26), India’s Jasprit Bumrah (2-26) and Sri Lankan veteran Lasith Malinga (0-21) choked Pune of runs in the final three crucial overs, denying them their target. Johnson, who retired from international cricket in 2015, was not first choice for Mumbai’s playing XI but an injury to Mitchell McClenaghan saw him star in the final two matches.
“We have got some proven match winners in our squad. It comes in healthy when the team requires them the most,” Sharma said. “Mitchell McClenaghan, who was playing well for us, was injured and unfortunately he couldn’t find a place in the finals, but we always knew we had a great back up in Johnson, who is again a proven customer. “He has done it for Australia and for Mumbai as well. He has been in this atmosphere as well. I could happily rely on him when I needed (him) the most.”
Johnson, who played a key role in Mumbai’s 2013 IPL (Indian Premier League) triumph, returned for a second stint after being picked in the February auctions. Johnson only played five games for Mumbai this season, with younger quicks Bumrah (20 wickets) and New Zealand’s McClenaghan (19 wickets) carrying the pace attack. But despite playing limited games, the Australian also played a role behind the scenes, Sharma said, working closely with bowling coach Shane Bond to sharpen Mumbai’s fast bowlers. “To have him throughout the season is fantastic. He’s been talking to younger bowlers, sharing his experience, all those things have helped our youngsters,” said Sharma. “You will hear (Jasprit) Bumrah talk about him in the future and how Johnson was helpful to him.”
Meanwhile Pune coach Stephen Fleming rued the absence of England’s Ben Stokes, who was key to Supergiant’s surge to the play-offs before being recalled to play for England. Stokes-whose $2.16 million contract broke the IPL signing record for a foreign player-scored 316 runs in 12 matches, with a highest of 103 not out, and took 12 wickets.
“We would have loved having Ben Stokes the full time but we knew he would not be there. We did not spend too much time lamenting that,” said Fleming, a former New Zealand captain. “From his point of view, he would have loved this situation. He is a big game player. Playing in the final, whatever competition it is, it is special.” However he was “proud” of the team for turning around their fortunes after finishing seventh in last year’s tournament.
“We are not a skilled side in the IPL. In this campaign, we have had some players stand up from nowhere. We take real pride in that,” said Fleming. “We have created an environment where some players excel. Jaydev (Unadkat) has been extraordinary, so has been Rahul Tripathi and (Manoj) Tiwary. Big stars have stepped up at key times. Ben Stokes was fantastic for us.” – AFP