It simply has not been Mumbai Indians’ (MI) season, one in which most Indian Premier League (IPL) outfits have raised their game by a couple of notches while the defending champions have failed to raise theirs. You could argue that the Indians are still in with a shout to make it to the IPL 2016 playoffs and their title defence has not been disastrous. The truth, however, is that Mumbai have not hit their straps at any stage this season: their longest winning streak has just been three matches and, as cliched as it could feel, they have consistently taken one step forward and immediately a couple of steps backwards. Which are the reasons why they are fighting to at least make it to the playoffs for the seventh successive time. Even if they sneak in, by winning their last two league fixtures against Delhi Daredevils (DD) and Gujarat Lions (GL), I don’t fancy them to go on and retain their title. Again, to win the title, you need to be consistent and cannot afford to keep repeating your mistakes, but MI have failed wretchedly in both those aspects.
Last night’s defeat to Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) in match 43 of IPL 2016, was a classic illustration of how poorly MI have played at times this season. Once Murali Vijay’s men got on top of them with the ball, Mumbai could not find a way to get out of that stranglehold. Credit to the visitors for harnessing the conditions and utilising their resources to the fullest, but Mumbai, despite the absences of Lasith Malinga and Lendl Simmons, are a strong outfit that, however, failed to play like one. Too many of their big players played blithe, arrogant strokes – as the image on the right shows – to gift their wickets to KXIP bowlers, who were rewarded for doing their basics right. The pitch was dry and provided assistance to the spinners, but a lot of the MI wickets were more of a consequence of poor shots than by mere good, accurate bowling from Punjab.
Mumbai, with 12 points from 12 games, remain at fifth position after the seven-wicket defeat to Kings XI, needing to win their remaining two fixtures and also needing other results to go their way, if they are to reach the last four. But taking a microscopic view on last night’s performance, what could Mumbai have done differently?
Yesterday, I did a piece, in which it was discussed whether Rohit Sharma should opt to bat or bowl first, if he wins the toss. He won the toss and chose to bat first, and there was no harm in his decision, which was based on the nature of the playing surface. As aforementioned, it was bone dry and allowed the ball to grip rather than just skid on to the bat. The Mumbai batsman and skipper must have felt that the pitch would get slower as the game progresses, meaning winning the toss was = advantage MI. Or, so Rohit and co. would have thought before they went out to bat. Rohit had a different opening partner this time, with Unmukt Chand replacing Parthiv Patel while the rest of the team that won against Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), was retained.
Given the amount of cricket Rohit has played since making his debut in 2008, he should have been agile to the situation and given Ricky Ponting a few pointers regarding how Mumbai should line-up. At the toss, he knew, or at least expected, the wicket to slow down, meaning shot-making was going to become harder once the ball got older. So, shouldn’t it have been fundamental then, for Mumbai to let the many stroke-makers in their line-up bat higher up the order?
Twenty20 (T20) cricket is largely about adapting to the prevalent conditions and giving the big-hitters in your side as many balls as possible – which is also the only way they can make an impact on the game. And the latter is even more important when the wicket is slow and shot-making is not a gimme. Someone like Jos Buttler, who is a better player against quick bowling than he is against spin, should have batted higher up than at No. 5. When he walked into bat, Axar Patel and KC Cariappa were in operation and the Englishman could not have had a tougher task. His short, 10-ball stay was a difficult one and the sad aspect was, Mumbai did not gain anything out of Buttler walking into bat when they were 3-36 in the ninth over, with their two best batsmen of the season back in the hut.
The likes of Buttler, Kieron Pollard and Krunal Pandya should have batted higher up, by which they might have been able to impose themselves on proceedings and demoralise Kings XI. Subsequently, Rohit and Ambati Rayudu, who can play spin bowling even with their eyes closed, would not have been wrong to drop down the order to counter Axar and Cariappa. Such a blueprint could have propelled Mumbai to a total of at least 150, instead of 125.
Springing a surprise or making a surprise change to the batting order would not have been new for Ponting, who, in just the second game of the ongoing season, was rewarded for being impudent and agile to the situation. During Mumbai’s pursuit of 188 against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) at the Eden Gardens, Mitchell McClenaghan was sent in at No. 4 to give impetus to the innings. The New Zealander’s stay – during which he scored 20 off just eight balls – was short but nonetheless, a rather effective one that set MI on their way to a clinical victory. Yes, that was a good batting surface and anyone could hit through the line, but logically, in the T20 format, a batting side only has 120 deliveries, so it’s extremely important to be innovative and spontaneous.
If Mumbai think the nature of the Visakhapatnam wicket is to blame for the defeat to Kings XI, they would be wrong and won’t do themselves much good ahead of the meeting with Daredevils tomorrow night. The wicket is unlikely to change from the way it played yesterday, meaning Mumbai, who will be in a do-or-die situation, have to reassess their batting line-up and figure out a way to harness Buttler, Pollard and K Pandya’s abilities to clear the boundary.