As soon as Alzarri Joseph and Rahul Chahar completed the second run to clinch a thrilling last-ball win against Kings XI Punjab, the Mumbai Indians players ran out on the field in two batches: one sprinted down the stairs from the dressing room and the other erupted in the dugout. Kieron Pollard, who turned the tables on Kings XI, was in neither of them.
Pollard was still padded up and under his helmet after his stunning 83 off 31 balls, studded with ten sixes, and was next to the dugout just beyond the boundary. Once Joseph hit the winning runs, Pollard jumped with joy, then gradually walked out on the field, took his helmet off, stood in the middle and pointed his thumbs towards his name at the back of his jersey. He was expressionless, but reminded the crowd who he was and what he could do.
Pollard had unleashed an astonishing assault en route to his highest IPL score when things were looking down for Mumbai. Not just for the win and his clean hitting, Pollard would always cherish this match because it was his first IPL outing as captain. The man he was filling in for Rohit Sharma - was missing his first IPL game since 2008, with a muscle spasm in his right leg.
Pollard was a hands-on captain on Wednesday night. He was constantly chatting with his bowlers by fielding inside the 30-yard circle, was changing fields to keep the batsmen thinking, and looked like a man in command. Pollard has had T20 captaincy experience in the past. He started leading in the Caribbean Premier League in 2013 and took Barbados Tridents to the final in 2015. In between, he also led in the Champions League T20 and later in the CSA T20 Challenge, South Africa's domestic competition. Before his captaincy debut in the IPL, he had captained in 68 T20s and won 31 of them.
On Wednesday, he could have easily let Ishan Kishan bat at No. 4 again, but Pollard promoted himself to that position in the eighth over when the asking rate was over 11. It was a mark of a captain stepping up under pressure in the absence of the side's biggest star. Since 2015, Pollard has come out to bat in the middle overs (7-15) 154 times in T20s and has averaged 36.30. He later said having a good batting track obviously helped.
"Obviously we needed a good wicket," Pollard said at the post-match press conference. "It's good that we knew what we had to go and chase. The guys went about it pretty well, we got a good start, 50-odd for 1 in the Powerplay. It was a matter of trying to keep that calm head and try to finish the game. Again, well done to the boys, it was a very good batting track. Some people complain about tracks [being] good for batting, but I think this one was brilliant and the guys showed their mettle."
Combined with the flatness of the pitch and the short boundaries at the Wankhede stadium, Pollard ended up facing four full tosses that helped him smash sixes down the ground and towards his favoured midwicket area. After Kishan got out at the end of the 12th over, Mumbai still needed 104 runs off 48 balls, with six wickets in hand. What was Pollard's game plan?
"When I saw that we needed 94 (104) off 48, I thought when you break it down that's just two big overs and we got that two big overs," he explained. "We had a couple of bowlers that we had to target and it worked well for us."
And Pollard targeted two bowlers: Kings XI's best of the season, R Ashwin, and Sam Curran. With his mighty hits that ignored the lengths of the balls, and with his long arms that helped him reach out for the wider deliveries from Curran, Pollard smashed them for 44 off 12 balls, including as many as six sixes. Was it the best he had batted?
"You can say yes, you can say no," he said. "For me what's more important is that we won the game and I was able to stay calm a bit under pressure. Obviously, I didn't finish off the game which I actually wanted to do, but that's why it's a team sport. The guys really rallied, I think Alzarri kept a calm head at the back end as well. He got a couple of overs in the game after that splendid spell [in the previous match] and then keeping that calm head in the end was good."
Pollard had walked into the press conference with his son wearing the Mumbai Indians jersey. It was probably his way of showing who were the closest to him and stuck with him last year when he wasn't in the best of the forms, and that there were things to be valued outside the game too.
For CPL 2018, Pollard was traded to St Lucia Stars, for whom he scored his maiden T20 hundred. But when he came to play the IPL, his bat couldn't fetch the runs he wanted and was even dropped for a few matches. In eight innings, he had managed just 133 runs with a strike rate of 133. His place in the side was being questioned.
"2018 is gone and obviously when you're losing, people tend to have all sorts of opinions on you," Pollard said. "People who have not played the game and people who have even played the game tend to have opinions, you can't stop people from that. I'm a cricketer, I'm 31 years of age, and I have a lot of cricket left in me. I think the people who're close to me back me and that's most important.
"It didn't work last year, last year is gone. You have life, every day you're going to get up in the morning, the sun rises in the east and is going to set in the west. There're better things other than winning, and losing, and scoring runs. There's family, and there're things to live for. They [Mumbai] showed faith in me, they retained me for this season and they started with me as well. So it's just a matter of me coming out, enjoying my cricket once again and that's exactly what I'm doing."