With their ignominious 9-wicket defeat to Indian Premier League’s (IPL) new boys Rising Pune Supergiants (RPS), Mumbai Indians (MI) have made a losing start to yet another IPL season. Ricky Ponting and company should be particularly concerned by a newly-formed side overpowering an outfit as settled as Mumbai are and who have come into the ninth edition of the IPL as defending champions.
Winning the toss and electing to bat first, MI, led by Rohit Sharma, batted like they were in an unchartered territory altogether. Spearheaded by Ishant Sharma, Pune’s bowlers bowled in the right areas and gave themselves every chance of getting a batsman out if he were to play a bad stroke. Mumbai batsmen though, as aforementioned, did not help themselves by being rather lackadaisical against the new ball and showing palpable rustiness in their first hits of this season.
It was only thanks to a responsible innings of 45* (30) from Harbhajan Singh, the home side got up to 8-121 after they had been reduced to 6-51 at the halfway point. It was an unusual pitch at the Wankhede Stadium for yesterday’s game, as the grass covering helped the ball to jag around and made life tougher for batsmen. Pune, though, had no problems with the playing surface when they came out to bat. Ajinkya Rahane (66*) and Faf du Plessis (34) gave their team a quick and solid opening, before Kevin Pietersen (21*) put the finishing touches.
In hindsight, what was the reason behind MI’s horrendous batting display and did they commit the same mistake that haunted them in previous seasons too?
IPL has seen opening batting partnerships like Matthew Hayden-Murali Vijay for the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Virender Sehwag-Gautam Gambhir for Delhi Daredevils (DD). For the Indians, however, there never has been a formidable opening stand. And that is even when Sachin Tendulkar was still playing for them; the Indian batting maestro did not have a settled opening partner, with the likes of Sanath Jayasuriya, Shikhar Dhawan, Dwayne Smith partnering him in the earlier editions of the IPL.
With Parthiv Patel and Lendl Simmons forging a solid partnership for a majority of the last season, it felt like MI had finally found a solution and put an end to the perennial problem at the top of their batting order. And I thought that this duo would be retained as the openers for this season too, despite the acquisition of Jos Butler.
Coming to the main part of this article, I was dismayed by the decision to partner Simmons with Rohit for last night’s game against MS Dhoni’s Pune. There are a couple of reasons why I felt so. The first and the most important reason is that MI’s middle order is chock-a-block with stroke-makers and often cries out for a batsman who can anchor the innings. Unfortunately for Mumbai, Rohit is the only batsman capable of finding that indispensable balance between defence and attack.
If Rohit opens the batting, MI are denied that stability to the middle order and their innings in general. Even in the T20 format of the game, it is necessary for any team to have a batsman who can lend control to the innings. What compounded this ridiculous decision last night was Hardik Pandya being asked to bat at No. 3 once Rohit fell, followed by Butler at No. 4. It just made MI more vulnerable to a capitulation, which might just have been avoided had someone like Ambati Rayudu entered the fray earlier: possibly at the fall of Butler’s wicket.
The second reason is, Rohit is a slow starter and in the context of a T20, can be a hindrance to the innings gathering early momentum. Consequently, his batting partner might feel the necessity to go after the bowlers and run the risk of getting himself out too. It’s because of these two reasons that I firmly believe in Rohit batting at No. 3, where he can lend stability to the MI innings and he is anyway capable of playing the big shots.
Without Corey Anderson too in their lineup yesterday, MI’s batting order was brittle and did not have an identity to it. Their bowling attack, defending a paltry 122, did not threaten the RPS batsmen much either. Mitchell McClenaghan and Jasprit Bumrah went wicket-less and were taken for plenty of runs too. Without Lasith Malinga to shoulder MI’s bowling, the defending champions will have to play out of their skins if they are to have a good season.