By Abhijit Banare
If there is any Indian Premier League (IPL) team which comes close to resembling a fantasy league, it would be Mumbai Indians — without a shred of doubt. It is the most expensive team, it has ‘Slinga Malinga’ who is one of the best T20 bowlers of the world, unarguably the best batsman in the world plays for them, yet Mumbai Indians have just a single appearance in the final, an unsuccessful one at that. Mumbai have been title favourites every season since IPL 2 due to sheer presence of match winners, yet things haven’t turned as per their plans.
As they say too many cooks spoil the broth same has been the case with Mumbai Indians who have undone themselves by using too many players having been spoilt for choices. While every team needs to guard itself from doing the same with large squads, Mumbai have been guilty of falling prey to the mistake last season.
Harbhajan Singh, who took over the leadership baton from Sachin Tendulkar in IPL 5, failed to select a setttled playing XI. The problem began right at the top with an unstable opening pair; Mumbai tried out eight opening combinations last season. And by the end of the season almost every player found his name in the playing XI at least once— a merry go round of sorts.
It’s clear that the team management chose to bid for Ricky Ponting in search of a capable leader. Though he is good at marshalling the resources effectively, it will be a challenge for Ponting to stand up and choose the team which can win consistently, and not weigh the reputation. There is too much to choose from the 33-member squad. Mumbai have a good mix of Indian and overseas players which lends an appropriate balance to the squad.
With Rohit Sharma, Ambati Rayudu and Dinesh Karthik, the batting options in the middle-order seem good, except for the fact that there isn’t a specialist opener along with Sachin Tendulkar. Ponting himself will be occupying one of the four overseas spots in the team. Along with Tendulkar, the team has one of the best mentors on the field they could’ve asked for. On the other hand, the duo will be occupying two important places in the batting line-up. The team management will be hoping the dynamic duo fires.
One place where things could possibly go haywire is the all-rounder’s spot. IPL 6′s only millionaire, Glenn Maxwell, is certain to play. Dwayne Smith, James Franklin, Kieron Pollard, Aiden Blizzard and Jacob Oram are vying for the other spot. In a T20 match, the spot of an all-rounder weighs more in comparison to any other format. If that spot happens to be for an overseas player, it’s a catch-22 situation. With such a huge pool of talented resources, it is tempting to use everybody’s ability. And if that happens, things could turn a little chaotic.
In the bowling department, Lasith Malinga is a certainty in the side, except today’s match against Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). Munaf Patel and Dhawal Kulkarni look set if the side goes for three pacers. And Nathan Coulter-Nile serves as a good back-up for Malinga. However, there will be a slight concern in the spin department as Harbhajan is struggling to find his feet and will have to fight it out with left-arm option of Pragyan Ojha.
So Ponting, Maxwell and the Sri Lankan pacer leave just one overseas spot which would be tilted in favour of Kieron Pollard. As mentioned earlier, it’s here that Ponting needs to monitor the performance of his players. Despite having a huge reputation to hit huge sixes and score quickly, Pollard turned out to be a liability in the previous season failing to score well and conceding around 9-runs per over.
As far as the pool from Indian players is concerned, Ponting will bank heavily on the expertise and observation of Tendulkar and newly-appointed mentor Anil Kumble. Players like Jalaj Saxena, Rishi Dhawan, Javed Khan are exciting prospects having performed reasonably well in domestic circuit. Overall, there are a set of back up players in every department and all the aspects seem covered.
Considering the fire in Ponting’s captaincy, it shouldn’t be a surprise if he opts out of a game or two to maintain the balance in the team, similar to what Daniel Vettori did last season by dropping himself despite being the captain of Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Harsha Bhogle made an interesting statement which sums up the situation. “Mumbai Indians have the players to win, but do they have a team to win is something to look for?” With Anil Kumble and John Wright to sort things out for the team, the ambitions to register their maiden title looks a clear possibility provided they keep things simple and straight.
(Like most Indians, Abhijit Banare has been obsessed with cricket since childhood. He is an avid follower, smitten by statistics and analysis. A journalism student in Mumbai, he considers himself lucky to have grown up watching batting legends like Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid. He also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed on Twitter and blog)