Mumbai Indians, two-time defending champions, are at risk of crashing out of IPL 2021 before the playoffs, with injuries and inconsistencies affecting their march to the title this time around, writes Sarah Waris.
Mumbai Indians are currently languishing at the sixth spot in the points table, with eight points from nine matches. With a NRR of -0.310, the franchisee will need to pull up their socks in the remaining matches, but if the first two games of the second leg of the tournament are any indication, the same problems which plagued them in the first stretch of the tournament remain in place.
Two back-to-back losses against Chennai Super Kings and Kolkata Knight Riders have hindered their progress, and they look a pale shadow of the dominant team they were last year.
So, what exactly has gone wrong for the five-time winners?
The form of Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav remains the biggest worry for the side. The latter has been striking at 132.11 but has only scored runs at an average of 20 this season — his worst record since 2017. Kishan, on the other hand, who had played a huge role in Mumbai’s win last year, scoring 516 runs at 57.33, has only amassed 98 runs at a strike rate of just over 88 this time round. Though Rohit Sharma has scored close to 300 runs this season, his strike rate of 125.77 is further adding pressure on the middle order.
Paltry middle-order options
A major reason for Mumbai’s success last year was the fine form of Ishan Kishan, who replaced Saurabh Tiwary in the XI. This season, though, with Kishan and Suryakumar both not in form, Mumbai Indians are in a spot of bother, with few realistic candidates to improve on those two. They do not have the deepest bench strength, with their Indian middle-order options being Anmolpreet Singh, Anukul Roy and Aditya Tare along with Tiwary.
With Hardik Pandya sitting out of the first two games of the UAE leg, the batting line-up drastically weakens down the order, a significant factor in their defeat to KKR on Thursday, as the late middle order failed to finish on a high after a good start. Krunal Pandya does not inspire much confidence with the bat of late — he has scored 116 runs at 14.50 at a strike rate of 128.88 — and his poor batting returns have meant added responsibility on Kieron Pollard. As good as he is, he can’t do it all.
A shortage of Indian quicks
Mumbai Indians have always relied on their overseas fast bowling resources, who, along with Jasprit Bumrah, have been the biggest match-winners for the side. Last season, it was James Pattinson who combined beautifully with Trent Boult and Bumrah, with Rahul Chahar taking on the spin duties in the middle. With the batting reliant on the Indian talent, it was a move that Mumbai could well afford.
However, the loss of form of their batters has affected this combination. With as many as three premium Indian players looking for runs, MI would have liked to send in Chris Lynn at the top, with Rohit batting lower down the order (a role he has taken on in the past). However, the lack of experienced Indian fast bowlers (they just have Dhawal Kulkarni on the bench, who last picked up an IPL wicket in 2019), has forced them to stick with their two-overseas-quicks combination. With Hardik not bowling due to injury and Pollard not consistently sending down four overs, MI necessarily have to stack their team with at least four specialist bowlers, two of those foreigners, which is leaving them light in the other departments.
No support for Rahul Chahar
On the slow tracks of Chennai in the first half of IPL 2021, Mumbai Indians were left wanting without adequate support for Rahul Chahar. The youngster, who has been a revelation in the last two seasons, has already picked up 11 wickets at 23.45 this season, earning himself a T20 World Cup spot, but the indifferent form of Krunal Pandya, who has three scalps and has conceded over eight an over this year, often takes away from the excellent effort put in by Chahar. In the recent match against KKR, we saw how the spinners turned the complexion of the game: after MI had raced away to 60-0 in seven overs, the duo of Sunil Narine and Varun Chakravarthy did well to ensure they could score only 29 in the next five overs.
Mumbai Indians do have Bumrah to stall the run flow in the middle overs, but with at least two overs of his kept for the death, Krunal’s inconsistent run is ensuring that batters are not under pressure in the middle overs despite Chahar’s brilliance.
Dodgy captaincy decisions
Rohit has been acknowledged as the best T20 skipper in the world, and it’s not without reason that he’s being touted as the next India captain, but a few decisions, especially holding back Bumrah in a number of matches, has left one wondering. In the first match against KKR earlier this year in Chennai, the Eoin Morgan-led side were well placed at 104-2 in under 13 overs, needing another 48 to win, with a well-set Nitish Rana at the crease. It would have been the perfect opportunity to get in Bumrah and pile on the pressure, with Chahar bowling alongside him. Instead, Rohit got himself to bowl for the first time since 2014, conceding nine runs in his first over. KKR got another nine off the next over bowled by Chahar, with Laxman Sivaramakrishnan stating on air that the KKR batters were looking to win the game before Bumrah back into the attack.
Though KKR lost in the end, it was more because of the rash shots and the harakiri of the batters than astute captaincy from Rohit. These minor mistakes have been in plenty through the course of the tournament and could cost MI a spot in the playoffs.