Mitchell Johnson, Richard Levi, Dinesh Karthik bring in huge value for Mumbai

Richard Levi, who had shown excitement in batting alongside Sachin Tendulkar, is one of the front-runners to partner the Indian batting legend at top © Getty Images

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

 

Duniya Hila Denge Hum” is the motto of the Mumbai Indians as they vow to take the world by storm. The Sachin Tendulkar-led side has been a dominant force since the 2010 season and is arguably the strongest team on paper in the Indian Premier League (IPL). However, the silverware has eluded them as they faltered at the business ends of the previous two editions. They had the goods to go all the way, but the big moments got the better of them.

 

The victorious Champions League T20 (CLT20) campaign in October 2011 promises to herald a new era. Despite the absence of stars such as Tendulkar, Rohit Sharma and Munaf Patel, Mumbai managed to beat the best in the business and clinch the coveted cup. The success against all odds would bolster their confidence and invigorate their self belief enormously. Most importantly, it would help them move past the psychological barrier of the knock-out situations and rise to challenge.

 

Mumbai Indians’ chinks in the armour cost them dearly during the last season. Tendulkar’s batted with a number of opening partners throughout the season, which led to instability at the top. The middle order’s consistency dropped as the season progressed and the bowling, which was heavily dependent on Malinga faltered once he lost the plot. However, the new additions in their roster would help them cover their aces and plug the areas of leaks.

 

Off all the teams, Mumbai have been the smartest during the player transfer window and the auction. Their fresh resources indicate that they have done a thorough post-mortem of their performance during the last season. If the team looked strong during the last season, it is even more intimidating this time around. It isn’t just the foreign recruits who have bolstered the unit, but also the talented Indian players and this gives them a diverse pool to choose from.

 

Richard Levi, Herschelle Gibbs, Aiden Blizzard and Davy Jacobs would be the front-runners to partner Tendulkar at the top. It is difficult to choose from the four as Levi is fresh from the sensational T20 ton against New Zealand, Gibbs is a feared hitter and a livewire in the field, Blizzard has done well for Mumbai in the past and Jacobs is a hard striker and a useful ‘keeper. Off the four, it looks like Jacobs’ chances are the least as Dinesh Karthik’s inclusion provides Mumbai a local wicket-keeping option and it would allow them play another foreign player.

 

Jacobs’ injury during the last season forced Mumbai to hand the gloves to Ambati Rayudu, a decision that pushed the talented player outside his comfort zone. Karthik – one of the best wicket-keepers in India – would don the gloves and Rayudu can solely concentrate on his batting. In fact, Karthik’s ability to shift gears according to the situation is a big asset and he would add teeth to the Mumbai middle order comprising Rohit, Rayudu and Kieron Pollard.

 

Coming to the all-rounders’ department, Mumbai’s resources are enviable as they have Pollard, Mitchell Johnson, James Franklin and Thisara Perera. Pollard is a batting all-rounder who is renowned for his destructive hitting and breathtaking fielding. Perera can blossom into a good finisher down the order and has made rapid strides on the bowling front. Johnson is a bowling all-rounder who can also give it a whack. Franklin was one of Mumbai’s success stories during the last season as he made a reputation as a finisher. His bowling prowess may have waned over the years, but he makes up for it with some brilliant batting.

 

During IPL 2011, Harbhajan Singh had to almost single-handedly carry the burden in the middle overs as he didn’t have a very effective partner at the other end. Ali Murtuza was impressive in patches but was inexperienced. Pragyan Ojha’s presence will help Harbhajan as the left-arm spinner is a proven quantity and has been a huge success in the IPL in the past. It would be a difficult proposition for the opposition batsmen to tackle their tweakers. The left-right combination would be a handful if they get their channels right on the day. Robin Peterson, the South African left-armer, would provide these two stiff competitions for a spot in the eleven.

 

Malinga has always been Mumbai’s trump card as his vicious yorkers intimidate most batsmen. However, off late, he hasn’t been able to produce the goods for Sri Lanka and has been expensive by his high standards. Mumbai needn’t worry as they have the fast bowling armoury to compensate, in case Malinga takes time to strike form. Clint McKay, Perera and Johnson form a fantastic pace battery and can be drafted in when needed. Munaf can be very nagging with his accurate line and length. However, their smartest buy has been Rudra Pratap Singh, as it has reinforced their Indian pool of fast bowlers and gives them a good back-up in case Munaf gets injured.

 

Most of Mumbai’s slots in the playing eleven are taken, but it would require tactical planning to pick the others. Tendulkar, Rohit, Malinga, Pollard, Harbhajan, Rayudu, Karthik, and Munaf should be the certainties. Off the remaining three spots, two would be taken by foreign players and it would all boil down to the combination Mumbai decide to field.

 

Tendulkar’s captaincy would be watched and scrutinised. He was splendid for most parts of the previous two seasons, but made a few glaring errors that cost them dearly and some critics may argue that the CLT20 was won under Harbhajan’s leadership.

 

Nevrtheless, Tendulkar’s tactical mind is without doubt one of the sharpest in the cricketing world. He has achieved almost everything there is the realm of cricket. A victorious Mumbai Indians campaign would help him establish his leadership credentials!

 

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)