Mumbai Indians (MI), one of the most settled sides in this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL), have looked utterly clueless in two of their opening three fixtures. The defending champions lost to Gujarat Lions, one of the two new teams in the ninth edition of the IPL, last night at their Wankhede fortress. The defending champions, though, can take heart from the fact that they pushed Gujarat all the way and only lost on the last delivery of the match.
The batsmen let their side down again, but the Mumbai bowlers showed great fighting spirit and nearly took their side to a victory. But for Aaron Finch, Gujarat might not have been able to chase down 144. By the end of the night, though, Suresh Raina and company had started their life in IPL with three straight wins. As for MI, they currently look a very ordinary side with no traces of fluency and dominance they exuded towards the latter half of last season, to pip Chennai Super Kings (CSK) to the title.
And the reason(s) for Indians’ struggle isn’t all that complicated either. Read on…
Basic gaffe behind MI’s early season woes
In a season that I felt would see them take their game to another level after they won their second title last year, MI have started yet another campaign poorly. Going by their record in the last two seasons, in particular, you would not be wrong, even one bit, to believe that “Rohit Sharma and co. can repeat history.”
The players haven’t performed to their potential so far and that is Mumbai’s biggest problem currently. They also have not fulfilled the roles – which are slightly different to last season – given to them by the team management. If the players, starting with the skipper himself, had performed better, maybe they would not have made such an underwhelming start.
The reason for the ‘maybes’ and ‘hads’ is because we are talking T20 cricket, a format in which individual brilliance has an unbelievable potential to win games. Remember MI’s victory against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) on Wednesday? Rohit underpinned the chase of 188, with Jos Buttler playing a very crucial knock – 41 (22) – of his own too. For some, that result might have felt strange given the way the MI batsmen had struggled against Rising Pune Supergiants (RPS) in their opening encounter. But still, with just a couple of their batsmen playing to potential and one big partnership, MI made a difficult chase look pretty easy.
Last night’s result was even more perplexing because of what Mumbai achieved in mid-week. When they could do so well away from home and in circumstances that were a lot more challenging, it begs to wonder why Rohit and co. were not able to replicate their showing from Wednesday.
You can simply call it “the management’s fault.” Too much of experimenting and very less rationale can only take you so long, and based on what I have seen in the opening three fixtures this season, I think MI have not been sensible with their team selection. Their intention to play flamboyant and dominant cricket is palpable but the manner in which they want to achieve it makes very little sense.
Rohit has become an indispensable player for India in ODI cricket, as an opener. And it was after he started opening the batting, did he find success at the international level. But I don’t understand why he ‘has’ to open the innings for Mumbai in the IPL. The dynamics of his franchise team are different and MI do not have finishers as reliable as Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni are. So, why risk losing your best batsman, which Rohit is for the Indians, very early on in the innings? I am not saying Rohit has to be protected, but the fact is MI do not have another player as the Mumbai stylist in their side and especially in the middle order.
The likes of Kieron Pollard and Buttler are stroke-makers, who do not have the solid defence Rohit possesses. So, when this duo arrive in the middle at any stage of the innings, you need someone like Rohit to hold one end up. Rohit’s presence will allow the Pollards and Buttlers to play their natural game and not hold back, which they had to in MI’s first and third games of the season.
It’s rather simple, I am telling you.
And if this is not enough, MI have been keen on deploying Hardik Pandya, yet another flamboyant batsman who knows to play in only one way, at No. 3. That too when they have lost early wickets and needed to ideally rebuild. When you have someone like Ambati Rayudu, who has so much more experience and ability at that position than Pandya, why would you not ask him to bat at No. 3? He is wasted at No. 6, where he has to play the role Pandya excels at. Bizarre, isn’t it?
I can tell you that the MI team management has to revert to basics and deploy their batsmen at positions where they can excel. Pandya is not a No. 3, where, regardless of the format, you need greater nous and a bigger repertoire than what the Baroda all-rounder boasts of. Rohit would be my No. 3 and if that means someone like Buttler has to open the innings, so be it. But the quicker Ricky Ponting and company address this huge, yet basic gaffe they are committing, the better it will be for MI, in their pursuit of successfully defending the title they won last year.