Sunday’s fixture against Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) was a hugely significant one for the defending Indian Premier League (IPL) champions Mumbai Indians (MI). It was a game between two teams that are fighting for a place in the IPL 2016 playoffs, with Sunrisers also having played a game less than the Indians (10). However, it was David Warner’s men who looked the hungrier and the more determined of the two teams, as they dwarfed Mumbai across all departments of the game and won at a canter by 85 runs.
For Mumbai, there are some major talking points from a game that they just didn’t get into. The 8-15 overs phase of the Sunrisers’ innings was the only time when MI were able to exert control of proceedings and put the brakes on the visitors. SRH started the game well, after they were sent in by Rohit Sharma, who won the toss. Warner gave his team a solid and blistering beginning that was then capitalised on by Yuvraj Singh and Shikhar Dhawan too, towards the end of the innings. They were helped, though, by some ordinary and pedestrian bowling from Mumbai, who were in action for the first time in seven days.
SRH set MI a target of 178 which, at the mid-innings break, seemed gettable, especially with the Indians proving to be an efficient chasing side who have won four of their five games this season by hunting down targets similar to the one they had to get on Sunday. This time around, though, the story was different. Parthiv Patel squandered another opportunity he was given by the team management, departing without troubling the scorers. And, in the very next over bowled by Ashish Nehra, Rohit’s middle-stump went for a toss and with it, Mumbai’s chances of winning too. Their middle and lower middle order failed to even put up a fight and resist the free flow of wickets, making the job rather easier for the visitors.
Which brings us to the question whether the defending IPL champions are a mere one-man army delegated by Rohit?
Indians’ IPL 2016 campaign has not been much different to last season, in which too they started off slowly but then, became consistent as the season progressed. This season, their form has been so up-and-down and they do not have the look of a side gunning for back-to-back IPL titles. They lost Lasith Malinga, arguably their most reliable match-winner, at the start of the season while Lendl Simmons was also ruled out for this campaign after the nine-wicket home defeat to Rising Pune Supergiants (RPS) on the opening night of IPL 9. Simmons was indispensable to their victorious IPL 2015 campaign and in IPL 2014, his substantial contributions at the top of the order carried Mumbai into the playoffs.
The bowling has coped reasonably well, though the duo of Harbhajan Singh and Jasprit Bumrah have struggled for consistency and been taken for plenty of runs. Mitchell McClenaghan and Tim Southee have had to assume the bulk of the responsibility for picking up wickets and also stemming the run flow. And when this duo had a slightly off day against Sunrisers, Mumbai could not control the haemorrhage of runs.
On the batting front, well, there has been Rohit and the others. Ambati Rayudu has been one of Mumbai’s batting mainstays this season, playing substantial and dynamic knocks including two half-centuries, one of which came in the first encounter against SRH.
But the main man has been Rohit – about which there’s no smidgen doubt. Four of his five half-centuries have resulted in Mumbai wins, with the exception against Delhi Daredevils (DD). Rohit has batted with a great deal of authority this season, especially whenever Mumbai have batted second. Sunday was one such instance, but this time, Rohit could not bring his chasing mastery to the fore. He would have wanted his troops to show that Mumbai are not just about Rohit, but after his side imploded to some consistent, tight bowling from Nehra and co., would have also reminded himself of his significance to this side. He might also have imbibed the fact that, Mumbai are NOTHING without his presence in the middle.
Yes, there is Kieron Pollard and so is Jos Buttler, but they are proper big-hitters, unlike Rohit, who can play in more than one way. It is his technique which puts him notches above other MI batsmen. Pollard and Buttler can play the cameos, but they simply cannot construct an innings. I reiterate it again, Mumbai’s chances of winning against Sunrisers became little to none as soon as Rohit was clean bowled by Nehra. The simple notion behind this is that Rohit’s staple food is not just sixes and fours, it also includes a good, solid defence.
Even in a chase demanding the side batting second to score at 8.90 runs-per-over, you need your batsmen to stay at the crease for long enough to get closer to the target first, before going all out towards the end. But barring Rohit and, to an extent, Rayudu, Mumbai are bereft of the kind of batsmen who can play the long innings, which is important in T20 cricket as much as it is in One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and Tests. Cameos, like the one Pollard played against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) – a 17-ball 51 – at the Wankhede Stadium, will not suffice in every fixture.
Sunday’s defeat to SRH has made it lucid to us, if it hadn’t already, how reliant the Mumbai Indians are on Rohit’s batting. What it will do is, force Mumbai’s upcoming opponents to target the ‘Hitman’ – which is how Rohit is affectionately called – and dismiss him very early on in the Mumbai Indians innings. Unless the Pollards and Buttlers exude solidity, to complement their big-hitting prowess, Mumbai are unlikely to make it to the IPL 2016 playoffs.