By Nishad Pai Vaidya
In 2011, an injury-ridden Mumbai Indians stunned the world by storming to victory in the Champions League T20. The Harbhajan Singh-led side managed to pull off a heist in spite of the absence of key players such as Sachin Tendulkar, Munaf Patel and Rohit Sharma. Playing against some of the stronger sides, Mumbai played as if they had nothing to lose and gave ample evidence of their remarkable bench strength. A year down the line, they have a full-strength squad at their disposal, but the question is: Are they up for the challenge at the CLT20?
On paper, Mumbai are undoubtedly the strongest side as they have some phenomenal batsmen and threatening bowlers to form a complete unit. However, games aren’t won on paper and Mumbai had been far from clinical during the last season of the Indian Premier League (IPL). They would invariably get into a hole before scripting an unbelievable Houdini act. The number of close finishes during the season was an apt reflection of their inability to finish matches convincingly. As the season progressed it became clear that Mumbai could only go the distance if they pulled their socks up.
One of Mumbai’s biggest problems is their opening combination – one that has been chopped and changed too many times. Sachin Tendulkar is the only constant factor at the top and has batted with numerous partners. Richard Levi is the specialist opener in Mumbai’s squad for the CLT20 2012. However, he has been found out by numerous teams doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. His form hasn’t been great and it may be a gamble playing him. But, playing at home may help Levi get back into his groove.
Having said that, Mumbai may prefer Dwayne Smith as he did well during the IPL and his aggressive style would lift a lot of pressure off Tendulkar. Smith is one of the many all-rounders Mumbai have in their side and adds dimension with his bowling. By opening with him, Mumbai can play the extra batsman down the order and also have another option with the ball.
Dinesh Karthik, Ambati Rayudu, Rohit Sharma and Kieron Pollard form a strong middle-order. The great thing is that they can be moved around the order and can perform at any spot. Rohit should be the key though as he has been fantastic in this format. He can rally the innings and get others to bat around him. This formidable batting line-up has often shown signs of a little instability, but he has been the guiding light and has saved them the blushes.
Lasith Malinga – the yorker machine – has been Mumbai’s biggest strength and a lot of their hopes would depend on him. Although, most batsmen continue to find him tricky to deal with, he has been demolished on a few occasions this year – to the surprise of many. The thing with Malinga is that he has to hit his rhythm whereby he can fire his yorker at will. When his rhythm gets shaken up, he tends to get wayward and that is when the opposition can target him.
Munaf Patel’s addition has given Malinga an able new-ball partner. Munaf may not be as quick as he was during his early days, but makes up for it with a nagging line and fantastic control. The only thing Munaf must guard against is his tendency to get into on-field confrontations. His fielding has improved and that is a huge positive.
Captain Harbhajan Singh would be eager to perform an encore of his performance of the 2011 edition. He has a point to prove as he is coming off an indifferent ICC World T20 2012 – where he played two games with contrasting fortunes in each. The off-spinner has to show that his comeback wasn’t hurried and that he has the goods to perform at the highest level.
The nine discussed above should be the certainties in the eleven – leaving two spots up for grabs. Off the two spots – one would be taken by a foreign player. Thissara Perera and Mitchell Johnson – the all-rounders would eye that one. Both would strengthen the batting and would provide the batting a bit of late impetus. It is a tricky choice and would ultimately depend on the angle they want on the bowling front.
The last available spot would be taken by an Indian and it would all depend on the combination Mumbai field. If they want two spinners then Pragyan Ojha would walk in. Suryakumar Yadav may get a chance if they want to field the extra batsman. However, they might go for the fast-bowler Dhawal Kulkarni – to exploit the South African conditions. Kulkarni’s chances would also depend on the toss-up between Perera and Johnson.
Mumbai have to iron out a number of wrinkles to be a strong contender for the title. They couldn’t quite do it during the long IPL season and it is unlikely they would do it at the shorter tournament in South Africa. Nevertheless, their previous campaign gives them tremendous hope and that would be a benchmark for them. T20 is an unpredictable format and some of the weaker sides in the last few years have proved that they can go all the way. Time for a strong side to shed an unwanted burden.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_