If you want to talk about Mumbai Indians and IPL 2014 season in one statement, you will end up talking about the stalwarts MI has let go rather than those have come in. Moreover, the players who were let go are peaking at their form for other franchises. Glenn Maxwell is all set to give Punjab the moment of their IPL history. Dwayne Smith has not yet made CSK miss the services of Mike Hussey. Mitchel Johnson has been decent and can do better while, Karthik is yet to blossom at Delhi.
Mumbai Indians had an amazing campaign in 2012 and 2013. Winning the Champions league in 2011, IPL in 2013 and the Champions League 2013 was an epitome of their success. All the players aforementioned were responsible for carrying MI to the top. With Tendulkar gone, MI has lost the buzz and the retained players face a tremendous amount of pressure to perform well. Out of which, Ojha, Rayudu and Harbhajan look unsettled as they are fighting for a spot in the national team.
Figure 1: League Standing for MI over IPL Seasons (Note: 2014 is the current season)
Mumbai Indians have been decent contenders over the past seasons. They have had players who could deliver at any phase of the tournament and turn results in their favor. However, this season’s campaign might not have started on the right note. Let’s analyze what MI lacks, which could be a deciding factor in their ranking in this season and their qualification for Champions League.
1. Chaos at the Auction
Before the auction, everyone was curious about MI’s strategy as the defending champions and how would they go about filling the void left by Tendulkar.
At first place, it was surprising to see Rayudu being retained, who according to a top order T20 batsman, had an average run for the past 3 IPL seasons. Rayudu could have been easily bought in the auction for a much lesser amount than what was paid to retain him.
Figure 2: Ambati Rayudu’s Strike-Rate over IPL seasons
Previous IPL seasons saw Rayudu batting ahead of Pollard, which was always a mystery. With ample opportunities and with an average strike rate of 120, MI really needs a better No. 3 batsman. Comparing it with Raina, who scores 145 runs/ 100 balls coming in at No. 3 for CSK.
Moreover, MI never considered to retain or to use RTM for Johnson. His performance peaked in the 2013 season taking 24 wickets at an economy and strike rate of 7.2 and 16 respectively. However, MI may survive with their current bowling department with Malinga leading the lot. Now, only concern remains that they get enough runs to defend.
2. No Firepower
Over the past 6 IPL seasons, MI’s opening slots have closely resembled the Indian economy – always unsettled. Mumbai Indians have started with Mike Hussey and Aditya Tare as their openers for this season. Dhawan, Gibbs, Levi, Ponting, M. Pandey, Smith are among the players who have been tried in the earlier seasons but only Smith was a successful experiment. So far, Hussey and Tare have been slow and disappointing.
Figure 3: Innings Progression for MI in first 2 matches, IPL 2014
The scoring rate in the first 8 overs makes a huge difference to the total score. MI has had some decent starts in the first 2 games, but lost their way after losing a couple of wickets. Their slow starts have cost them the match against KKR where they scored just 22 runs from the 6th over to the 10th over. The match against RCB showcased the MI’s weak top order. After a good start at 49/1 in the 6th over, they lost a wicket and managed a meagre 14 runs in the next 4 overs. It is surprising that the statistics from both their games match-up close.
The top order is missing the firepower to maintain the momentum of a good start. Mike Hussey has passed his peak and has been away from the international arena for a while. Tare never looks to be a settled opener. And moreover, Rayudu coming in at no. 3 is just like a speed-bump in the middle of the highway. Just to bring out the numbers, Rayudu and Tare batted against RCB with a strike rate of less than 95. MI needs to fire at the top and that is possible if the best stroke-makers in the team play the maximum number of deliveries
Suggested Batting Order: Hussey, Tare/Rayudu, Sharma, Anderson, Pollard and the rest.
3. Poor Flexibility
Dwayne Bravo with 39 wickets in IPL 2013 has been ruled out of the IPL 2014. What does CSK do? They get in Hilfenhaus who bowled brilliantly against Delhi Daredevils. Similarly, RR replaced Hodge (out due to illness) with Steven Smith, another stroke-maker and a splendid fielder. Question here is, does Mumbai Indians enjoy this flexibility?
With the squad MI has, they are clearly missing out on another solid Indian batsman. If Sharma / Rayudu is injured, they do not have an Indian batsman waiting in the wings to go out and hit the ball. At the same time, Anderson and Pollard are just out of injuries and may take time to find their feet. Replacing Hussey with Dunk could serve as an option, but apart from that, there is a very little flexibility in the batting unit. As far as the bowling goes, Santokie can replace Malinga (if injured) but that would be a depleted bowling attack to pair up with a shaky batting order.
4. Out of form match-winners
Someone like Yuvraj Singh, playing along with Gayle, AB, Kohli and Morkel can afford to have some quiet matches and take his time to return to the form. MI does not enjoy the luxury as that of RCB. Every match-winner in MI has to hit the bull’s eye in order to put their team in a winning position.
Pollard scored a stunning hundred in the Caribbean League after a 6 month lay-off and is waiting for his chance in this IPL. Hussey, Harbhajan and Sharma are in the similar situation, with all of them waiting to hit the right chords. Corey Anderson is a big hope after his Blitz-Krieg hundred, but has not played much international cricket after that. With Malinga being the only in-form match winner for MI, things look a little tough as compared to other franchisees.
At present, MI resembles a boxer whose nose is bleeding just before entering the ring. Looking at how other teams are shaping up with their options, it seems that MI fans are going to have a very tough season ahead. It has been just 2 games so far, but MI needs to peak before it is too late. Not IPL 2013, but IPL 2014 season will go down in the history of Mumbai Indians, if they make it in the top 4.