Mumbai Indians’ (MI) form has gradually picked up in the ninth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), with the defending champions winning three of their last four games and reducing the points gap at the top. On Thursday night, they produced their best performance of the season so far, obliterating Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) by six wickets in what was a very important game from the Indians’ perspective. The two points picked up against Gautam Gambhir’s side, helped Rohit Sharma and company to get into the top four for the first time in this campaign.
Of course, they have played the most games (8) of all IPL outfits and could be overtaken this evening, if Delhi Daredevils (DD) and Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) win their respective games against the Knight Riders and Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). But there can be no denying the fact that MI have played a good brand of cricket this week following their defeat to the Daredevils last Saturday at the Feroz Shah Kotla, where they lost a game in which victory was within their grasp.
The integral reason behind Mumbai’s upturn in form has been them playing with the same XI in their last four games. They have looked a lot more settled than they were in the opening four fixtures, of which they had lost three and had no cohesion, whatsoever, in their performances.
The batting form of Ambati Rayudu and his promotion to No. 3, in addition to Rohit finding his groove and consistency at the top of the order, have also been the highlights of MI’s turnaround in form. It was a ridiculous decision to have Hardik Pandya batting at No. 3. I mean no disrespect to the youngster whatsoever, but given H Pandya’s batting technique and instinctive hitting style, No. 3 is at least a couple of positions higher than where he is best suited.
In the bowling department, Tim Southee and Mitchell McClenaghan – who currently has the Orange Cap, with 12 wickets – have dovetailed really well and proved their adeptness at bowling with the new ball as well as in the death overs of the innings. Harbhajan Singh and Jasprit Bumrah, who has picked eight wickets in eight games this season, have not bowled as well as they would have liked, but the Indian duo are doing a reasonable job to support the attack. Hardik’s elder brother, Krunal Pandya, has been MI’s rising star this season, taking the baton from his younger brother, who excelled in the tournament last season, and showing that he can be a reliable spinning all-rounder. He too, has been crucial in his side’s good run of form.
Mumbai travel to Pune, to take on MS Dhoni’s Rising Pune Supergiants (RPS) in the return fixture between these sides tomorrow evening. The home side, following their IPL opening night victory against the Indians, have won just one of their next six fixtures, including last night’s defeat to Gujarat Lions (GL) at Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium. Despite putting up 195 on the board batting first, they lost by three wickets to Suresh Raina’s men, who have been in red-hot form in their debut IPL season.
The question for Mumbai is, do they need to make changes to the playing XI which has helped them build momentum and put them in the fray for making the top four?
Parthiv Patel’s form is a concern for Ponting and co., at the top of the order. He did play a crucial knock of 81 (58) – his highest IPL score – against Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) on Monday night. But the diminutive wicket-keeper batsman was given a reprieve when he was on 15 and had looked unconvincing for the first part of that knock. He failed against KKR, just a couple of days after the outing in Mohali, and if I was a part of the MI think-tank, I will definitely look to make a change.
Mumbai, if they have aspirations of going deep into the tournament, need a solid opening partnership. At the moment, it looks wobbly due to P Patel’s inconsistency and capriciousness. Unmukt Chand has been in the fringes for long and deserves a chance to prove himself. He is a very capable, attack-minded batsman who would be an ideal foil for Rohit. I would inject the Delhi man into the XI for tomorrow’s game against RPS.
The rest of the batting lineup comprising of Rayudu, Jos Buttler, Kieron Pollard, and the Pandya brothers, can be stuck with for tomorrow’s game. H Pandya’s overall form is a slight worry too, but at least for the Maharashtra derby, I would not tinker too much with the combination that is proving to be successful so far.
Coming to the bowling department, as aforementioned, Southee and McClenaghan have been bowling well and there’s no reason to drop either of them. Harbhajan has had an underwhelming campaign so far, having picked up just four wickets from eight games. The worry with the Turbanator has been the ease with which the batsmen have scored off his bowling. His economy of 8.46 runs-per-over this season is extremely higher than his IPL career economy rate (6.97). But as the senior pro and his ability to use the long handle to great effect, he cannot be left out. Bumrah too, has to be stuck with, despite his strange bowling form. He bowled ordinarily throughout India’s ICC World Twenty20 2016 campaign, in which he wasn’t able to stem the run flow and the wickets didn’t come at the rate they were in the three preparatory tournaments prior to the biennial tournament.
Mumbai Indians’ should-be playing XI against RPS: R Sharma (C), U Chand, A Rayudu, J Buttler, K Pollard, K Pandya, H Pandya, H Singh, M McClenaghan, T Southee and J Bumrah.
As you can see, there is little scope for changes to the Mumbai playing XI which beat KKR convincingly on Thursday night. The Pune wicket produced a high-scoring game between Supergiants and Lions last night and so far in IPL 9, it has had a lot more grass covering than it did in any of the previous editions. Which means, MI need not make any changes to their bowling attack and in the batting department, U Chand will be a suitable partner for Rohit and should ideally be drafted in for the out-of-form P Patel.