Agarkar: MI the most settled franchise
Mumbai Indians’ campaign over the last two years has followed a template. In 2014, they didn’t have a single point after five games, before stringing together seven wins in their next nine matches to seal a playoff berth. The 2015 tournament can once again be split into two parts. They opened with four successive losses. But an injury-forced change to the opening combination and several key players stepping up helped Mumbai pull a rabbit out of the hat and finish second on the points table. After edging past Chennai Super Kings in the first qualifier of the 2015 edition, they beat the same opponents to lift the trophy for the second time,.
Like most years, Mumbai begin as one of the favourites. While the length of the tournament gives teams ample time to bounce back, Mumbai wouldn’t want to find themselves in a predicament early and would be hoping for a smooth start to their title defence. Five of the seven purchases made by Mumbai were local players. Mumbai splurged INR 3.2 crores on Nathu Singh, the right-arm medium pacer from Rajasthan, who made the headlines after February’s auction. Stories have floated around aplenty of Nathu having already created a favourable impression on the likes of Rahul Dravid, Gautam Gambhir and Sandeep Patil, but whether and how he fits in a star-studded line-up remains to be seen.
While it’s hard to pick a stronger suit, Mumbai’s batting probably looks more dangerous. The timely recovery of Kieron Pollard from a knee injury will come as a relief. Rohit Sharma has already indicated his preference for opening; he could be partnered by one of Lendl Simmons or Parthiv Patel. Considering Mumbai’s ample firepower, Rohit could also drop anchor and let the innings build around him. With Pollard, Corey Anderson, Jos Buttler, Hardik Pandya and Ambati Rayudu to pick from, Mumbai’s middle order is among the most intimidating and destructive forces in the competition.
Lasith Malinga is all but ruled out of the competition, but Mumbai have enough bench strength to make up for it. Malinga’s absence improves the playing chances of Tim Southee – one of two overseas inclusions along with Jos Buttler. Jasprit Bumrah’s fantastic few months with India makes him a certainty and the carrier of death-bowling duties.
Mumbai have only four specialist spinners and yet have variety – Harbhajan Singh, left-arm spinner J Suchith, legspinner Shreyas Gopal and offspinner Akshay Wakhare. Despite the presence of several pacers, Mumbai chose to shore up their pace department in the auction, leaving their spin unit wearing a slightly depleted look. But with the Wankhede surface among the flattest in the country, as evidenced in the World T20, it may come down more to how astute the bowler is rather than the kind of bowler operating.
Mumbai have a host of foreign players to choose from and it would probably take a bit of head-scratching to figure out the best combination. If Simmons opens the innings, Mumbai will have to choose between Anderson and Pollard. Likewise, only one of Mitchell McClenaghan or Southee is likely to make the cut. Mumbai will have to be wary of tinkering too much, and ensure they are consistent with their selection.
Additionally, with a wicketkeeper already there in Parthiv, it remains to be seen if Buttler is handed the big gloves or used in a batting capacity only.
The go-to men
Rohit Sharma had a central role to play in Mumbai’s turnaround, and subsequent win in 2015. The detractors are never too far off Rohit, who punched well below his weight in the World T20, and will be keen to prove a point. Besides, Rohit has already shown his willingness to take responsibility in past editions, and captaincy has done wonders for his batting.
Lendl Simmons has been a consistent performer for Mumbai. He was the franchise’s highest run-scorer in 2014, despite playing seven matches fewer than the next best performer. Simmons has also shown the ability to step up when it matters. In 2015, he replaced an injured Aaron Finch at the top and scored 540 runs to once again top the batting charts. More recently, he blasted a match-winning 82 not out in the World T20 semi-final against India after being called up just two days prior to the match.
Harbhajan Singh will be expected to keep the run-flow in the middle overs in check, a task he has performed brilliantly over the years as a career economy rate of 6.61 after 195 T20 matches testifies.
Mumbai weren’t the most active franchise at the auction, making just seven purchases – the least, along with Kolkata Knight Riders. Mumbai struck a good deal with Buttler’s acquisition for INR 3.8 crore. While Buttler bagged the highest among the seven players, his imperious form during the World T20 and big-hitting ability should make for a favourable return on investment.
Mumbai are yet to announce a replacement for Malinga. Malinga apart, there are no known injury concerns.
Mentor – Sachin Tendulkar, Head coach – Ricky Ponting, Coach – Paras Mhambrey, Assistant and batting coach – Robin Singh, Bowling coach – Shane Bond, Fielding coach – Jonty Rhodes, Assistant strength and conditioning coach – Afzal Khan, Trainer – Paul Chapman.
“It is very important to start the tournament the way you want. T20 format is about momentum. The way you play reflects in the next game. We have stressed on it. We haven’t started well, but have managed to win the title. We don’t want to repeat that this year though.”
Mumbai Indians captain Rohit Sharma
Akshay Gopalakrishnan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo