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Pausing for Breath, Waiting for Momentum – Mumbai is Down but Not Out

April 20, 2016

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“Mumbai Indians are slow starters to a tournament” is something which is turning out to be a very popular quote amongst the cricketing experts nowadays, though I hardly believe that the experts have been consistent with the stats they picked and thoroughgoing with the words they stated. I can understand that in the last 3 IPL seasons Mumbai Indians merely won anything out of their 4 fixtures upfront, but at the same time if you are not batting an eye to those 4 seasons where they were at the top of the table at the end of round 4 then you are not doing justice to yourself as a critic. Perhaps being a very close follower of this team since the inaugural IPL season it would perhaps be easier for me to bring out the summary of the complete picture so that one can understand the actual scenario.

2008:
Unavailable players:
Sachin Tendulkar – injury (for more than a half of the season)
Lasith Malinga – injury (whole season)
Harbhajan Singh – suspension (almost the whole season)
The team got highly unsettled with its key players missing and had to wait till the 5th match before it could taste the first victory. Though they came back hard later on and almost made it to the semis, a couple of lost close games held them back.

2009:
Perhaps the worst season they had. It was one of those rare outings where they won one and lose two, put one step forward and two steps back. The whole team seemed over reliant on just two or three players and whenever they failed to deliver the team collapsed too. The start however wasn’t that too bad, but they seemed to lose their way as the tournament progressed.

2010 – 2013:
And here it comes. If we talk about just the first 4 games, for all these 4 seasons MI were either placed at the top or the 2nd place. They were inarguably the best team within the group stage but except that last season they could not fetch themselves the ideal result. That’s because when it came down to the crunch situations of the cracking knockout games they often went into their shell.

2014:
The defending champions started their campaign with 5 straight defeats. However it followed all the heroics needed including the goosebumping chase of 195 off just 14.3 overs in a do-or-die match to see themselves into the playoffs.

2015:
What was considered to be a miracle that could only happen once in a blue moon was repeated with a greater intensity by the same team to register their greatest landmark. While the others would try to move one position up from the bottom after losing 5 out of their first 6 matches, Mumbai Indians climbed all the way to clinch their second IPL title.

So are they really slow starters?
Yes, they are; but I have a different interpretation. We can find many instances where they got themselves off to really handsome starts. But if you take a tournament at a time rather than a match, that’s where Mumbai made a slow start. In the first two seasons they couldn’t draw the impact which they would have liked to, but again, when they get going they are one of those very few teams who are ridiculously consistent in this format of the game. And that’s exactly what we have seen in the last 6 years! Every time they finished at the upper half of the league table, played 3 finals and won 2 of them – that is a magnificent record to have, something that no other teams of this edition’s IPL have.

What’s the reason behind their success?
They kept the core of the team same for a long time. They had a fixed set of players in every department with their roles well defined and they never let them go. When there are Slinga Malinga, Turbanator Harbhajan, Big hitting Kieron Pollard, Cool headed Rayudu, Ro-HIT Sharma and the God himself playing for the same team you got to feel for the opponent.

Why did they occasionally stumble at the beginning?
In the first two editions Mumbai didn’t have the ideal combination available, while in the last two it took them a while to pick out that ideal combination. But if you take all the IPL editions under consideration then the opening slot emerges as one of their longstanding worries. A shadow of doubt was always there regarding who will open with Tendulkar. And after that with the retirement of the only standby batsman at the top the team was left high and dry. Although they recovered well, but until so the things did look horribly wrong for the blues. Also it wasn’t easy for the likes of Harbhajan and Pollard to find their rhythm right from the outset with the decreasing number of competitive matches they get to play at the top level in the meantime.

And now keeping all these things in mind let’s come back to the present scenario and have a look at what are the “so called” adversities Ponting’s boys will have to battle out this time around. Are those challenges really going to be too intense to deal with?

  1. Only 2 points after 4 matches: Most of the players of the team have been there in this situation before and they did show that they are the most dangerous side with their back against the wall. These are still very early days of the tournament, so with 10 games still in hand it’s a little too early to press the panic button.
  2. Without Lendl Simmons: Injuries can either be placed an excuse or viewed as an opportunity for another personnel to come in and show what he is made of. We all remember how Simmons and McClenaghen took over from the injured pair of Aaron Finch and Corey Anderson. So the defending champions should not think too much about this, especially when they have someone like Martin Guptill who can be as explosive as anyone else at the top.
  3. Without Lasith Malinga: The well furnished unit comprising the purple cap holder Mitchell McClenaghen, in form Tim Southee and better than ever Jasprit Bumrah should be able to step into the vacant shoes of Malinga. So again, not too much to think about in this regard either.
  4. Away from the fortress Wankhede: Though MI win the most of their home matches but it doesn’t mean they have a bad away record. In fact at some of the venues they have such away records which even the home teams of those grounds would love to have. That’s because once they play a game or two at a specific venue they usually get adapted to the conditions miraculously well and thereby giving themselves a better chance for the subsequent games.

So isn’t their anything to worry about? Of course there is! However personally I don’t think that there are too many shuffles needed amongst the overseas players, may be one change at max. But it’s surely the time to put a serious thought about those one or two places where the Indian players are involved. Yes, Mumbai Indians at times have been late to pull up their socks, but let me remind you that their head coach Ricky Ponting is a master of reading the things beyond the stats. He makes the right changes just at the right time and I believe we will surely come up with the goods once again. Till then keep calm and believe in the Comeback Kings.

 

 

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