Can Mumbai find the right balance and grab hands on the third title? © AFP and designed by Paulami Chakraborty
Can Mumbai find the right balance and grab hands on the third title? © AFP and designed by Paulami Chakraborty

Mumbai Indians (MI) have seen a lot of changes over the years. The look of the side is almost indistinguishable from what it used to be in 2008, when Sachin Tendulkar, Sanath Jayasuriya and Shaun Pollock ruled roost. While Lasith Malinga, Harbhajan Singh and Kieron Pollard have stayed on, new faces like Ambati Rayudu, the Pandya brothers, Jos Buttler and Jasprit Bumrah have joined forces, as has Parthiv Patel, IPL’s roving franchise cricketer. While the initial years were not good for the Indians, they went back to the drawing board to better their fortunes over time. Five years of failure were followed by two IPL titles in three years, in 2013 and 2015. They also won the Champions Trophy in 2011 and 2013.

But that was not all. Mumbai could have won their maiden title in 2010 had they not lost wickets in succession in the final against Chennai Super Kings (CSK). They came close to an IPL title in 2011 but ended up failing in the business end of the tournament, ultimately being placed on No. 3. The leadership has changed hands from Tendulkar to Pollock to Harbhajan to Ponting to Rohit Sharma.

Year M W L NR P
2008 14 7 7 0 5
2009 14 5 8 1 7
2010 16 11 5 0 2
2011 16 10 6 0 3
2012 17 10 7 0 4
2013 19 13 6 0 1
2014 15 7 8 0 4
2015 16 10 6 0 1
2016 14 7 7 0 5

But all that is about past. Let us concentrate on the job in hand. With just a week before IPL 10 goes underway, MI have found a balanced side with some smart pickings in the auctions last month. They had retained 20 players from the previous squad and released 7. Old stars Mitchell Johnson and Saurabh Tiwary are returning back to their side after four years. They have also added new faces like Nicholas Pooran, Asela Gunaratne, Krishnappa Gowtham and Kulwant Khejroliya. MI’s biggest bid of Karn Sharma (INR 3.2 crores) was somewhat surprising, given his failure for Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) last season, will be in focus.

‘Duniya hila denge’ factors:

Brothers in arms: Hardik Pandya had found his way into the IPL in 2015. He was off the mark right away in his debut game when he smashed a six off the second delivery he faced, against Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). When MI needed 30 in 2 overs against CSK, Hardik smashed an 8-ball 21. Unfortunately, he failed last season, scoring just 44 in 11 matches at 6.28 and picking up a mere 3 wickets.

Krunal, the elder Pandya brother, came into prominence when he was acquired in 2016 for INR 2 crores. He amassed 237 runs and bagged 6 wickets in IPL 9, his best performance coming against Delhi Daredevils (DD) when he smashed a 37-ball 86. While both can play the big shots while batting, they are capable with ball as well, Hardik honing his bouncers and Krunal spinning the ball. What they produce together for MI this year would be an interesting sight.

The Pollard- Buttler- Rayudu-Parthiv combination: Pollard has been almost synonymous to MI over years, bringing crowd to their feet with his massive sixes, guileful medium-paced bowling and on-field athleticism. He had announced himself in the 2011 Champions League with 146 runs at a strike rate close to 200. When MI won their second title, Pollard ended with most runs of 419 at strike-rate of 164 including a 17-ball 41 in Qualifier 1 and an 18-ball 36 in the final.

Buttler, on the other hand, is probably the most explosive batsman in limited-overs cricket. He announced his IPL debut in style last year with 255 runs at 23.18, being the third highest run-scorer for the side. MI also depend a lot on Rayudu, one of the most consistent batsmen since 2011. He was on top in 2015 when he made 281 runs at strike rate of 145.

It has been an excellent year for Parthiv so far. He had led Gujarat to their maiden Ranji title, sealing it with a fourth-innings hundred. He also made a comeback to the Indian Test side. Parthiv’s IPL journey has involved one transfer after another, from CSK to Kochi Tuskers Kerala (KTK) to Deccan Chargers (DC) to SRH to RCB to MI, who finally found a regular opener. He ended with 339 runs at 26.07 in 2015, playing a crucial role in his franchise’s second victory.

The Sri Lanka advantage: Malinga has spearheaded MI over years with his toe-crushing yorkers. Despite injuries, he remains to be leading wicket-taker in IPL with 143 wickets at an economy rate of 6.67. His absence was sorely missed in 2016 after he was out with a knee injury.

Meanwhile, after Lalchand Rajput, Pollock and Ponting, MI have found a new coach in Mahela Jayawardene in his first stint as coach. Amidst these players is Gunaratne, the rising star of Sri Lanka, who became an instant star with  his unbeaten 46-ball 84 against Australia and his unbeaten maiden century against South Africa last month. He is also a more than handy bowler.

Fitness alert:

Although Rohit and Harbhajan are key to MI’s success, their recent form and fitness would be concerns.

Harbhajan’s on and off performance in the recent Vijay Hazare and Deodhar Trophies do not show a convincing picture ahead of IPL. His only good outing was against Haryana, where he ended with a 4-for. The advantage Harbhajan holds is his vast experience in IPL: he was a part of MI since 2008. He had also led MI to their first Champions League title in 2011. In the seventh and eighth seasons, Harbhajan bowled extremely well picking up 14 and 18 wickets respectively. His consistent show in the IPL was rewarded with the recall to the Indian team.

Rohit, on the other hand, has had a long layoff since October. His comeback in the domestic arena, in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, did not come off as expected. He was also named captain of India Blue in Deodhar Trophy, but an injured knee meant that he missed out again. With the threat of injury constantly looming over Rohit, MI can be in trouble. However, Rohit has been consistent with the bat since the inception of IPL. He was instrumental in DC winning in 2009, scoring 362 runs at 27.84.

Rohit joined MI in 2011 and took over the team’s captaincy midway of 2013, leading them to their maiden IPL title. Later, in 2015, they lost their first 6 matches before going on to lift the trophy, once again under Rohit. He led from the front in the final. He scored a fifty and was named Player of the Match. At present, Rohit is the third highest run-scorer in IPL with 3,874 at 33.68.

‘Ala re’ factors:

The curious case of Karn: Karn grabbed attention when he was the highest bid for MI in this year’s auction. Karn was acquired by SRH in 2013 for INR 3.5 crores. He formed a potent combination with Amit Mishra as SRH beat expectations to reach the semi-finals in their first season. His best season was in 2014 where claimed 15 wickets off 14 matches. However, he lost his form last year, and SRH released him from the side.

Although MI have spinners in form of Krunal and Harbhajan, Karn can be a perfect back-up option and leave behind a forgettable 2016.

Chance of glory for new arrivals: Gowtham’s inclusion can be yet another chance for MI to play around with their middle-order, but only at the need of the hour. With Pollard, Krunal and Hardik, Buttler, Rayudu already present, Gowtham may have less opportunity to showcase his talent. However, his pick at the auction was timely as he struck 74 against Australia in the practice match just before the day. He has also been in form in domestic circuit. He can also provide spin options when required.

Khejroliya was a mysterious puzzle that none could solve at the time of IPL 2017 auction, but his entry during the Vijay Hazare Trophy provided all answers. A medium-fast, Khejroliya announced his debut in domestic arena for Delhi, claiming three wickets against Himachal Pradesh. He also claimed crucial wickets for India Blue in Deodhar Trophy. With MI’s love for pacers, one would not be surprised to find Khejroliya bowling sometime soon as well.

Another wicketkeeper-batsman in the side is the Trinidadian Pooran, who made his name count in T20 cricket playing for Barbados Tridents in CPL and Islamabad United in PSL. In 2016, he scored his runs at a strike rate of 149 with the ability of batting anywhere in the order. However, with Parthiv, Buttler and Gowtham (and even Rayudu) around, it may be difficult for him to break through, especially since he will occupy an overseas cricketer’s slot.

Return of old stars: It would be nothing less than homecoming for Johnson and Tiwary this edition. Johnson had impressed many with his IPL debut claiming 24 wickets (let us also not forget his ability to hit them big down the order). Meanwhile, Tiwary, earlier part of Rising Pune Supergiants (RPS) — when they had that extra S after their name — will be happy to find his way back to the side where he grabbed all the limelight. He had piled up 419 runs in 2013. However, he has not got much under his willow for RPS, which led to his exclusion.

Mumbai Indians bolstering pace attack: MI have relied on their pacers who have given them opportunity to rejoice. Apart from Malinga and Johnson are Bumrah, Mitchell McClenaghan and Tim Southee, who have brought their best game forward in every IPL edition. Bumrah’s rapid rise began in IPL; he was spotted by John Wright, was fast-tracked into the Indian team, and became an overnight hit. He finished 2016 with 15 wickets with an economy rate of 7.80.

Meanwhile, McClenaghan and Southee might be caught in a fix who have been hit by injuries. McClenaghan ended 2015 with 18 wickets and 2016 with 17. Southee, currently struggling with an ankle injury, will certainly not be a part of the attack in the initial stages, though he may be a force to beckon with as the tournament proceeds.

Prediction: MI’s only problem at this stage seems to be quite enviable, since they have multiple players to perform every role. While this is an excellent thing for them, this can also prolong their hunt for the best possible XI. With the preparatory camp already on in full swing, MI will hope to find the right flaws and work towards claiming their third title.

Likely XI: Rohit Sharma (c), Parthiv Patel (wk), Ambati Rayudu, Jos Buttler, Kieron Pollard, Hardik Pandya, Krunal Pandya, Harbhajan Singh, Mitchell Johnson, Lasith Malinga, Jasprit Bumrah.

Mumbai Indians Squad (overseas cricketers are underline): Rohit Sharma (c), Jos Buttler (wk), Parthiv Patel (wk), Nicholas Pooran (wk), Krishnappa Gowtham (wk), Ambati Rayudu (wk), Lendl Simmons (wk), Kulwant Khejroliya, Karn Sharma, Saurabh Tiwary, Asela Gunaratne, Mitchell Johnson, Harbhajan Singh, Mitchell McClenaghan, Shreyas Gopal, Siddhesh Lad, Vinay Kumar, Kieron Pollard, Krunal Pandya, Tim Southee, Lasith Malinga, Jagadeesha Suchith, Nitish Rana, Hardik Pandya, Jasprit Bumrah, Jitesh Sharma, Deepak Punia.