Mumbai Indians (MI) travel to Kolkata to take on Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) at the Eden Gardens, in match 5 of the ninth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL). The defending IPL champions suffered a morale-denting, 9-wicket defeat to Rising Pune Supergiants (RPS) in their opening fixture last Saturday. The Knight Riders, on the other hand, crushed Delhi Daredevils (DD) by nine wickets and made an emphatic start to their IPL 2016 campaign. There is absolutely no doubt that KKR are a formidable side and their performance on Sunday was a vindication of their squad’s strength and depth.
There has to be a massive improvement from the showing against RPS, if Ricky Ponting’s men are to have a chance of registering their first victory of this season. The first step towards a possible victory against the Knight Riders has to be picking a playing XI that is well-balanced. The team selection for their first game was ridiculously poor and I would point to it as a major reason in MI beginning yet another IPL campaign with a defeat.
Assessing Mumbai’s best playing XI
Unfortunately for the Indians, they did not have any positives to take from their performance against MS Dhoni’s side, who comprehensively annihilated them. Harbhajan Singh was Mumbai’s saviour with the bat, as it was his 45* (30) that lifted Mumbai to 8-121 after they were reduced to 6-51 at the halfway mark in their innings. The Turbanator also got the solitary wicket – of Faf du Plessis – to fall for Pune on Saturday. So there are absolutely no positives to take into tomorrow night’s game against KKR.
Looking beyond the performance in their first game, Mumbai do have good memories of tomorrow’s venue. They have won both their IPL crowns at the Eden Gardens, where the current champions also pulled off a sensational victory in the 2011 season. Needing 21 runs in the final over to win that game, James Franklin and Ambati Rayudu combined to take their team home. On a personal front, Rohit Sharma has fond memories of the Eden Gardens too.
Without Lasith Malinga in their ranks, Mumbai do look a slightly depleted side, as the Srilankan fast bowler has been one of their marquee players since the 2009 season. It just leaves them with a huge void that they can hardly fill. Mumbai have to contend with the absence of Malinga when they bat and score those extra 10-15 runs to give themselves that extra cushion while bowling.
Opening the batting with Rohit and Lendl Simmons does not seem an appropriate solution to me. Though it can be said that Rohit is Indians’ best batsman and hence should be given the bulk of the overs, I think it is better for the Mumbai batsman and his team if he bats at No. 3. Of course, it may not be hugely different from him opening the innings. But, at No. 3, he has a better chance of lending stability to the innings, which the defending champions definitely need. Their middle order is chock-a-block with stroke-makers and, barring Rayudu, most of them struggle to find that indispensable balance between defence and attack.
Because Hardik Pandya has proved himself as a capable all-rounder, I would definitely play another batsman in place of Vinay Kumar or Shreyas Gopal. And that batsman, in my opinion, should be Parthiv Patel, who formed an outstanding opening partnership with Simmons for almost the entirety of last season. During his time as a Chennai Super Kings (CSK) player, he mostly played as a specialist batsman and there is no reason why he cannot do so for Mumbai too, now that Jos Butler has been added to MI’s roster. The diminutive left-hander will be my choice to open the batting, thereby forming a right-left combination too, at the top of the order.
Mitchell McClenaghan and Jasprit Bumrah probably had poor days with the ball against RPS and there is no reason to axe them for tomorrow’s game.
So, here’s the XI I would pick to play against the Knight Riders: R Sharma (C), P Patel (for V Kumar), L Simmons, J Butler, K Pollard, H Pandya, A Rayudu, H Singh, S Gopal, M McClenaghan and J Bumrah.
*Each one of them has been placed in their respective batting positions.
There’s no need for MI to panic, despite beginning a third consecutive IPL season with a defeat. They have got good resources at their disposal and are capable of putting together another good season. It is, however, important to find the right combination as soon as possible and start to win games. And what better time to do all that – finding the right combination and starting to win games – than against Gautam Gambhir’s side tomorrow.