‘Mercurial’, is the right word to describe the Mumbai Indians (MI) of the ninth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), in which they have been too inconsistent and overly indecisive in everything they have done until this point. Having lost by seven wickets to Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) on Friday, the defending IPL Champions must now win their final two league games and hope that other results go their way, to reach the IPL 2016 playoffs.
The Indians take on Delhi Daredevils (DD) on Sunday in their penultimate fixture, at Visakhapatnam, where they have yet to register a win. The Daredevils, who have the same points (12) as MI, are enjoying a great season and are well poised to go through to the playoffs. They are currently at third place on the table and have also played two games less than Mumbai. So, they will be totally devoid of pressure and can play flamboyantly, while the defending champions can simply not afford to put a foot wrong.
Amidst such high stakes, what should be MI’s playing XI against DD, in match 47 of IPL 2016?
After an extended run of games in the side despite not performing, Parthiv Patel was dropped from the XI for the home game against Punjab. However, his replacement, Unmukt Chand, did nothing to prove that he should have been included a lot earlier than just on Friday. The 2012 U-19 World Cup winning Indian skipper got out without troubling the scorers, in just the fourth ball he faced. Being an audacious, flamboyant stroke-maker, the Visakhapatnam wicket was not a conducive one for strokeplay. The nature of the playing surface for MI v DD on Sunday is unlikely to be different from what it was for MI v KXIP on Friday, so the Mumbai team management must decide whether Chand should be retained in the XI for the clash against Daredevils.
It would be harsh to drop him after just one game, but Mumbai must play their strongest possible XI to give themselves the best chance of winning against DD.
Chand’s place in the side is not only dependent on him, but also on other replacements that could be made to the XI which suffered the disastrous defeat to bottom-placed Kings XI. The reason I say that is, the potential of replacing an under-performing Jos Buttler, who has not only struggled for runs in his first season in the IPL and for the Indians, but also proved his ineptitude against spinners. So, presuming that the wicket is going to play as it did when Mumbai faced Punjab, the MI think-tank needs to make a decision on Buttler’s place in the XI for the must-win encounter against Delhi.
Martin Guptill has played in just one game, which was against Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH), since replacing the injured Lendl Simmons in the MI squad. One of the major problems for Mumbai has been the inability of their openers to get their team off to good starts and subsequently provide the stroke-makers in the middle order the ideal platform to play with freedom. Could Guptill be the man to solve Mumbai’s woes at the top of the batting order? Well, the MI team management must address and acknowledge the importance of the openers laying a solid foundation – an aspect which is a lot significant for the Indians than it is the case for most other IPL outfits – before they can contemplate injecting Guptill into their playing XI, in place of Buttler for this mighty important clash.
So, going back to whether Chand should be retained or not, Guptill’s inclusion would mean that Mumbai do not have a recognised wicket-keeper in their ranks unless Ambati Rayudu adorns the gloves – something which he hasn’t done for quite some time now. Therefore, what I would do is, if I was a part of the MI team management, bring back P Patel in place of Chand, and get him to open the innings with Guptill.
Focusing on Mumbai’s batting order, given the nature of the Visakhapatnam wicket, I would ask Rohit Sharma to bat at No. 4, a position where he can bat with freedom or, if need be, anchor the innings too. If he opens the batting, especially if Mumbai bat first, he will not quite enjoy the freedom to go after the bowlers and Mumbai won’t benefit if Rohit has to play a sedate knock too. Rayudu can continue to bat at No. 3, where he has tasted plenty of success already this season, including scoring two half-centuries.
Kieron Pollard can then slot in at No. 5, followed by Krunal Pandya and the bowlers. Such a batting line-up would exude balance and Mumbai can produce a much better batting performance than they were able to against KXIP. Nitish Rana might seem to be the forgotten man who showed glimpses of his batting potential on Friday. But there is no reason for him to not be retained in the playing XI against Delhi. The 22-year-old Delhi southpaw will have to play as a floater, though, whose position in the MI batting line-up will depend on the kind of start they get and how the innings takes shape.
Barring the two changes mentioned above, of P Patel replacing Chand and Guptill coming in place of Buttler, I do not think Mumbai need to make any more changes to their playing XI for the clash against Delhi.
Mumbai Indians’ (MI) playing XI v DD (according to their batting positions): P Patel (WK), M Guptill, A Rayudu, R Sharma (C), K Pollard, K Pandya, N Rana, Harbhajan Singh, Tim Southee, Mitchell McClenaghan and Jasprit Bumrah.
Mumbai will have to be at their best to beat Delhi and keep their playoffs chances alive. But it’s of paramount importance that they field a playing XI which exudes balance and carries no passenger in it. The changes the MI team management ‘can’ make to the Indians’ playing XI, will have to be to the batting line-up while the bowling attack needs no changes.