Season after season, Mumbai Indians (MI) prove their magical ability to recover from a very ordinary beginning and then all of a sudden, start dominating the league altogether. And in doing so, put themselves in the frame to qualify for the Indian Premier League (IPL) Qualifiers. Do you merely call it a fluctuation in fortunes or point to the sheer fortitude of the team, coached by the former Australian skipper in Ricky Ponting, to not feel dejected by the hammerings delivered to them in the nascent stages of a campaign? The ongoing IPL 2016 season for the Indians has so far been a reiteration of the last two campaigns.
However, this season, in particular, MI deserve great credit for the recovery they have made compared to the last two campaigns. The reason I say that is the injuries to key players – none more significant than Lasith Malinga, the leading wicket-taker (with 143 wickets) in the IPL and Lendl Simmons, who was so critical to MI’s success last year and in dragging them into the qualifiers in the season before last – they have had to contend with.
Although it is confounding why Mumbai cannot make a good start, you need to take into consideration the 12-month gap between one IPL season and another. The players aren’t always together and a lot of them do not play regularly for their national teams either, something which applies to Harbhajan Singh and Kieron Pollard – who are hugely integral to MI and have yet to hit their strides this season. The Turbanator was in the Indian Cricket Team’s fringes during their ICC World Twenty20 2016 campaign, and Harbhajan’s lack of match practice has been evident in the way he has bowled so far in this IPL. Pollard, on the other hand, played for Cape Cobras in the Ram Slam T20 Challenge way back in November 2015. A ligament injury to his right knee meant that he was out of action for five months before recovering in time for the start of this IPL season. And, when you play at the highest level, rhythm plays as much of a role as your ability.
From Mumbai’s perspective, given the injuries to key players and a few of their core players struggling for form, they will be cock-a-hoop with the recovery they have made, putting themselves in a great position to make it to the IPL Qualifiers for the seventh successive season. But how will the ongoing week-long break affect the Indians, who play only on May 8th against Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) at their make-shift home venue: Visakhapatnam District Cricket Association (VDCA) Stadium?
Mumbai are currently on a three-match winning streak and have played splendid cricket over the course of the last week. They recovered well from the defeat to Delhi Daredevils (DD) by beating Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) in their very next fixture and then have followed it up with comprehensive wins versus Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) and Pune, against whom they clinically chased down average totals to win. There is no smidgen doubt that MI have gathered momentum and look good heading into the business end of the tournament.
But, logically speaking, this break could potentially disrupt all the momentum garnered over the last week. Most Indian players will go and spend time with their families, which can be good when you are not playing well and a break will help you take your mind off the game and relax. But given the scenario Mumbai find themselves in, it is an unnecessary distraction and could have an adverse effect in the defending champions’ pursuit of finishing in the top two.
Mumbai have benefitted from playing every other day or every two days, the sort of scheduling which has helped their players get into a rhythm and stay focused. This week-long break might see them relax a little too much and lose sight of the task at hand. Let us not forget that Mumbai need at least three more wins from the remaining five fixtures, to confirm their place in the qualifiers. And, if they have ambitions of finishing in the top two, then they might need to win 80% of their remaining games.
Gujarat Lions (GL) are sitting pretty at the summit with 12 points from eight games, one less than the number of matches MI have played (9). And, barring the Supergiants, every other team has played just seven or six games. So, Mumbai could be overtaken by the time they play again. Which is the reason why there is plenty of hard work still to be done by the defending IPL champions, who, however, are in control of their own destiny, having got return fixtures to play against the Daredevils, Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), Lions, and Sunrisers – the quartet that you can expect to fight with Mumbai for a place in the IPL playoffs, along with KKR, who leapfrogged Mumbai into second place last night, with their victory against the Royal Challengers.
Mumbai have had to work hard to put themselves in the position they are, on the IPL 2016 table. But their sluggish start to the season means that they still have considerable work to do, in order to seal their place in the playoffs. And this break might act as an impediment in their surge to the top. However, having discovered their best playing XI for this season, all the MI team management needs to do later this week is, ensure that the players are well aware of the task at hand.