IPL Champions one year and a poor defence of their title in the following season: the story of Mumbai Indians (MI) and their failure to once again defend their IPL title won in the eighth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), just as they could not in IPL 2014, after winning their first-ever title in 2013. As the defending champions, Mumbai failed to get off the blocks quickly and at no stage managed to string four, five, or six wins together – the kind of form that gets you into the playoffs quite easily. Let us face it, the ninth edition of the IPL has seen the likes of Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) and Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) punching above their weight and Delhi Daredevils (DD) proving to be a menace till the 10-game mark.
But how do you categorise the Mumbai Indians into any of these?
As one of the two or three heavyweights, following the two-year suspensions handed to Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Rajasthan Royals (RR), Mumbai just didn’t get going at any point. They were on a three-game winning run before their home games – with three of them remaining – were shifted from the Wankhede Stadium to Visakhapatnam, the change in venue which, I think, undid MI’s bid to successfully defend their title.
In the post-match presentation following his last over heroics against Kings XI Punjab (KXIP), MS Dhoni, the Rising Pune Supergiants (RPS) skipper who scored 22 runs off Axar Patel in the last over of the match (0, 1 wide, 6, 0, 4, 6, 6) to take his team over the line just hours before Mumbai were knocked out of IPL 2016, talked about how difficult it can be for any team to adapt from one venue to another. At the Wankhede, the playing surface had pace, bounce and allowed strokeplay. The Visakhapatnam wicket, however, was on the drier side and stroke-making was by no means a gimme. The stroke-makers in the Mumbai batting line-up – Rohit Sharma, Kieron Pollard and Jos Buttler – struggled for timing and their style of play was just not suited to the prevalent conditions. In their last home game, against Delhi, Mumbai did post a huge total of 4-206, but largely, their indispensable batsmen found it hard to adapt their game from Wankhede to the ACA-VDCA Stadium.
Well, this article reviews Mumbai’s failed title defence for the second consecutive time and elucidates on the problem areas, highest and lowest points of the season, etc.
Most problematic area
Mumbai’s most significant problem was the lack of a reliable opening partnership. This is where the loss of Lendl Simmons due to a lower-back injury, after just one game into the season, was absolutely huge for the Indians, who were carried by the Caribbean dasher in IPL 2014 and 2015. The MI team management placed plenty of faith in Parthiv Patel, who was Simmons’ opening partner in IPL 8, hoping that he would start to come good sooner rather than later. Blatantly speaking, though, P Patel is more of a cannon fodder because of the one-dimensional nature of his batting. Martin Guptill got to play in just three games, after being called up as a replacement for Simmons. The New Zealand opening batsman could have been deployed at a much earlier stage, given that P Patel was just filling up the numbers and didn’t exude any confidence whatsoever at the top of the order.
Mumbai did not have a settled and reliable opening pair, yes, but the same can be said about the entire batting line-up as well. In a lot of games, Ricky Ponting sent in a big-hitter at No. 3 or 4 to give the innings the impetus it was lacking or to keep the momentum going. But it was also because Buttler and Pollard, Mumbai’s No. 4 and No. 5 respectively, could not be entrusted with batting a substantial portion of the innings, on days when the IPL 2015 champions had lost early wickets. Which is another reason why Mumbai might have benefitted if they had another Ambati Rayudu, who can play the waiting game but is also adept at stepping on the gas at the right time, in their ranks.
Hardik Pandya, one of the stars of IPL 2015, was the defending champions’ No. 3 at the start of IPL 2016. But his technical incompetence and lack of nous required to bat at that prestigious position in any format became lucid in the first three games and the Mumbai team management’s outrageous experiment had to go into the trashcan. Rayudu then was promoted from No. 6 to No. 3, where he enjoyed quite a lot of success, scoring two half-centuries and making substantial contributions consistently. As aforementioned, Mumbai’s problem was that they did not have another Rayudu-type player who can hold the innings together and let the Pollards and Buttlers play their natural game.
Over the course of their unsuccessful title defence, the Mumbai Indians’ batting line-up let the team down on a lot of occasions, as they failed to read situations and show application – traits which are necessary even in a Twenty20 (T20) game. They lost the first-leg against Delhi at the Feroz Shah Kotla, where, in pursuit of 165, Mumbai looked highly likely to come out as winners. They were 3-103 after 12.4 overs, needing 62 to win from 44 balls, at a venue where the value for your shots is extremely high. Even with Rohit batting through, Mumbai fell short by 10 runs due to the lack of game awareness.
This game is a perfect example of how MI’s integral batsmen – excluding their skipper, maybe – failed to make crucial contributions to the team. The last game of their season, against Gujarat Lions (GL), followed a similar script too, as the Mumbai Indians folded up for a mere 172 after reaching 5-153 at the end of the 17th over, a formidable and viable situation to be in for a side batting first on any given night.
Pluses of the season
Arguably the biggest positive of Indians’ season was the emergence of Krunal Pandya, the elder brother of H Pandya. Despite having not played first-class cricket, K Pandya was picked up in the February auctions by the Indians and the acquisition of the Baroda spinning all-rounder proved to be a masterstroke in hindsight, given how he fared with the bat and the ball throughout Mumbai’s IPL 2016 campaign.
He might have scored just one half-century – a 37-ball 86 which propelled Mumbai to 206-4 against the Daredevils at Visakhapatnam – but he rarely let the team down when he was sent to bat higher up the order and as a pinch-hitter. A tally of 237 runs from 12 matches at a strike-rate of 191.12, to go with picking six wickets at a good economy rate of 7.57 runs-per-over, is a very good return for the elder Pandya, who impressed one and all with his nonchalant stroke-making in particular.
Another major positive for Mumbai was how the bowling attack rose to the occasion and camouflaged Lasith Malinga’s absence, which I thought was going to be massively felt by the defending champions. Instead, it was their bowlers who did a good job more often than not and kept their team in the hunt for a spot in the IPL 2016 playoffs until the very last league game.
Mitchell McClenaghan bowled his heart out in every game and, although he became a little obsessed with banging the ball halfway down the pitch, was well rewarded with 17 wickets. As aforementioned, since he predominantly bowled a short-ish length, he went for quite a lot of runs in certain games, as his economy rate of 8.17 runs-per-over indicates. His compatriot and New Zealand teammate, Tim Southee, complemented him really well too and together, they added potency to the Mumbai attack that might have otherwise struggled to pick opposition wickets. Southee picked up nine wickets from 11 games and was pretty economical, conceding 7.65 runs-per-over.
Jasprit Bumrah and Harbhajan Singh were not at their best, though the former finished the season with 15 wickets from 14 games. The Turbanator struggled to find his rhythm after he had spent a lot of time on the fringes of the Indian cricket team and he, more than anyone else, will know that his bowling standards dipped a bit in this IPL season.
Overall, though, the MI team management did not have to change their bowling attack – which is often a very good indicator of how a particular department is functioning – except for the last two league games. For the second-legs of the fixtures against DD and GL, Mumbai tweaked their opening batting combination and brought in Guptill. They were, therefore, forced to sacrifice an overseas player, who, in my opinion, could have been Buttler and not Southee.
Lowest point of Mumbai’s IPL 2016 campaign
It has to be the 85-run loss to Sunrisers in Mumbai’s first fixture at Visakhapatnam. Yuvraj Singh played a blinder – a 23-ball 39 – to lift Sunrisers to 4-177 after Mumbai had restricted them to 2-102 at the end of 14 overs. Under lights, Mumbai batsmen didn’t have a clue against the pace and seam of the SRH attack led by Ashish Nehra, who was complemented wonderfully well by Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Mumbai looked poised for reaching the playoffs before this game, but SRH’s dominant performance brought to light the defending champions’ many frailties.
Highest point of Mumbai’s IPL 2016 campaign
It has to be the six-wicket victory over KKR in the last fixture Mumbai played at the Wankhede Stadium. Batting first, Robin Uthappa and Gautam Gambhir had given the 2014 IPL Champions a resounding start and looked in an ominous mood. Mumbai’s bowlers, though, came back strongly after being pummelled in the powerplay overs and strangulated the Knight Riders’ batting line-up comprising of the likes of Andre Russell, Yusuf Pathan and Suryakumar Yadav, three of the most destructive batsmen in their side. Given the kind of start KKR had gotten off to, Mumbai’s bowlers did exceptionally well to restrict them to just 174, which could have been even lesser had it not been for poor catching by Southee at the deep mid-wicket boundary.
Needing 175 runs for victory, Mumbai rode on another Rohit masterclass and a whirlwind 17-ball 51 from Pollard and won the game with 12 balls to spare. This defeat at the hands of MI left KKR in a precarious situation at that point of their season. With this victory over Kolkata, Mumbai managed to string two wins together for the first time in their IPL 2016 campaign and everything seemed to be falling in place for them.
Mumbai Indians, after they won the IPL 2015 so emphatically, would have hoped for a better showing and defence of their crown – which, mind you, is never easy in any sport. Their failure to even reach the playoffs, however, has to be seen as a huge debacle and confirms regression after the high of becoming IPL champions for the second time in history last year. I am sure that the team and the Mumbai think-tank are hugely disappointed with their failure to do justice to their potential as a unit and as individuals.