After suffering an ignominious 9-wicket defeat against Rising Pune Supergiants (RPS) in their opening fixture, Mumbai Indians (MI) produced a solid batting display to beat Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) by six wickets on Wednesday night at the Eden Gardens.
It was an important victory for the defending champions, who have a tough run of fixtures to begin with. Rohit Sharma led the way with the bat, scoring 84* (54) to help his team chase down the mammoth target of 188. He was provided ample support by newcomer Jos Buttler, who, with his enterprising knock of 41 (22), helped MI take the game away from the Knight Riders.
We were, however, unable to learn much from Mumbai’s performance against Kolkata. Yes, it was an emphatic victory by six wickets and they chased down a big total rather easily. But the T20 format is such that one batsman can often win you a game on his own. So a victory is not a true reflection, always, of how a team fared on a particular day/night. Therefore, MI cannot be over-joyed by their victory against KKR, though they can take a few positives from it.
Going into tonight’s game against Gujarat, one of the two new teams in IPL 2016 and led by Suresh Raina, what team combination should Mumbai opt for?
Lendl Simmons did not feature against the Knight Riders due to a lower back injury, which has ruled him out of the entire season. Martin Guptill has been named as his replacement. It is a huge blow to Mumbai, for whom the hard-hitting West Indian opener was an integral part of their success last year and in them reaching the playoffs in the 2014 season. His absence did not hamper them at all against Kolkata, but we will have to wait and see how the Indians cope in the 12 remaining fixtures.
Parthiv Patel, who replaced Shreyas Gopal in the playing XI on Wednesday, played a good knock of 23 (20) at the top of the order and was unfortunate to be run-out. On the eve of the game, Cricfooty did suggest that the diminutive wicket-keeper batsman should be drafted in, after the success he enjoyed during the title-winning 2015 campaign.
Ahead of tonight’s game, I would stick with the opening combination of ‘PP’ – which is how P Patel is affectionately called by his MI teammates – and Rohit. I am still not convinced by the Mumbai skipper, also the best batsman in the MI side, opening the batting, as I feel he can render stability to the innings if he bats at No. 3. But he himself has proclaimed that the opening slot is his for the rest of this IPL season. Mumbai’s supporters can, therefore, only hope that Rohit continues to bat like he did in the last game.
The other perplexing aspect about MI’s first two games this season, has been the team management’s decision to have Hardik Pandya bat at No. 3. He has looked uncomfortable in the middle in his two outings so far and continues to prove his ineptitude against spinners. With Rohit opening the innings, I wonder if they have assigned his position to Pandya, in the hope that the flamboyant youngster can play those game-changing knocks in the middle overs. If I was a part of the Mumbai think-tank, I would choose solidity over aggression at No. 3 and hence go with Ambati Rayudu.
Buttler is in the prime of his career and has performed brilliantly with the bat for England over the last 12 months in limited-overs cricket. Taking his recent form into account, it could prove to be an astute purchase from MI, who only got a glimpse of what the Englishman can do, on Wednesday. A couple of strokes in particular, stood out during his knock of 41. He absolutely pummelled Andre Russell in the 15th over of the MI innings, scoring 17 runs on his own. It included two lofted, inside-out drives, with which he cleared the boundary off consecutive deliveries. No. 4 looks to be his position in this Mumbai side.
Kieron Pollard should bat at No. 5 unless Ricky Ponting comes up with freak decisions like the one on Wednesday. Mumbai’s pursuit of 188 became a little stagnant in the middle overs and, at the fall of Pandya’s wicket, Mitchell McClenaghan walked in ahead of Buttler and Pollard. It proved to be a tactical master-stroke from ‘Punter’ in the end, as the MI innings gathered momentum purely because of the Kiwi pacer’s 8-ball 20.
Pandya, as the all-rounder in the side, should bat at No. 6, followed by the bowlers. Tim Southee replaced Simmons in MI’s playing XI against KKR, and the right-arm seamer had a poor debut. The Wankhede pitch is likely to assist fast bowlers a lot more than the pitch at the Eden Gardens did, meaning Southee could be a lot more lethal than he was on Wednesday. McClenaghan bowled well against Kolkata and picked up 2-25 in his four overs. He will hope to continue his good work against Gujarat, who have some devastating batsmen in their lineup, none more than his compatriot Brendon McCullum.
Jagadeesha Suchith had a wonderful debut season in 2015, taking 10 wickets in 13 games. He had a wretched night at the Eden Gardens, though on Wednesday. His Karnataka teammate, Manish Pandey, took a liking to the left-arm orthodox spinner and hammered him relentlessly. Should MI retain him for tonight’s game?
In terms of size, Wankhede and the Eden Gardens are quite similar, so Suchith may once again not enjoy a great deal of protection and Gujarat batsmen will definitely target him if he plays. I would ‘stick’ with him for tonight’s game, though. Pandya is a seam bowling all-rounder and therefore, it is not absolutely necessary to include Vinay Kumar or someone like Nathu Singh for that matter, in the playing XI. Jasprit Bumrah, who has yet to pick a wicket this season, will look to get his rhythm back after two ordinary outings.
Mumbai’s should be playing XI v Gujarat Lions: R Sharma (C), P Patel, A Rayudu, J Buttler, K Pollard, H Pandya, Harbhajan Singh, M McClenaghan, J Suchith, T Southee and J Bumrah.
*Players are placed in their respective batting positions.
Mumbai look a shaky side and without Lasith Malinga, their bowling does not really pose enough wicket-taking threat. Therefore, much of the onus will have to be taken by the batsmen, regardless of whether MI chase a score they have been set or are asked to set a score for the opposition. Gujarat will provide a huge challenge for Mumbai, who, in my opinion, are not favourites for tonight’s game. In terms of the playing XI, I would not change the winning combination but make the slight tweak in the batting order alone.