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IPL 6 Team Preview: Mumbai Indians

Mumbai Indians have always managed to figure among the most formidable sides in the Indian Premier League, at least on paper. Arguably the most high-profile team in the scheme of things, MI has drawn in record-breaking TV-viewership over the years (IPL-1 saw 293 million viewers who tuned in for MI matches; by IPL-5, they were the only side to contain the erosion of viewers that had plagued the tournament), asserting its pole-position in terms of fan-following.

The Ol’ Masters are back, and this time they are on the same side. (Getty Images)

The Ol’ Masters are back, and this time they are on the same side. (File Photo: Getty Images)

Mumbai Indians deal in big money and bigger names. In five years, they have fielded legends who’d otherwise ridden into the sunset, giving them the perfect setting for swan-songs. If an ageing Sanath Jayasuriya exploded back into global cynosure in the very first edition, scoring at a strike-rate of over 160 and smashing 31 sixes in 14 matches, Herschelle Gibbs and Shaun Pollock showed they still had power under the hood in subsequent years. The ‘face’ of Mumbai Indians has been Sachin Tendulkar, who for all purposes, has been the face of Indian cricket as we know it.

None of these, however, has been effectively translated onto the field. Barring the 2010 season, when MI’s relentless march towards the trophy was cut short by a supremely confident Chennai Super Kings in the finals, the Indians have failed to click as a unit in crunch games. The inaugural tournament had the erstwhile MI captain Tendulkar miss half the side’s matches, an inauspicious start to what culminated in a sub-par 5th position in the final tally. Things went from bad to worse when the party moved to South Africa in 2009, where MI’s lack of dependable domestic talent was jarringly obvious. It ended up second to last in standings. IPL-4 and 5 saw Harbhajan Singh take over MI captaincy, a job that suited him ill even as Tendulkar scored his first T-20 ton, and the likes of Ambati Rayadu and Rohit Sharma rode the crest of a wave.

In a nutshell, Mumbai Indians is a team still waiting on glory. The 2011 Champions League trophy was only a taste of the honey, but the IPL Cup is a whole beehive. So how do they get it right this time? By playing to their strengths and fixing the grey areas.

Strengths

The Veterans:

Call them what you want: legends, old-hands or has-beens; Ricky Ponting and Sachin Tendulkar have played over a thousand international matches between them, and Harbhajan Singh, Jacob Oram and James Franklin each have a decade of international experience behind them. Experience equals wisdom, and this wisdom makes a player adaptable, resistant to pressure and impervious to guile. If Mumbai Indians are able to use this arsenal of time-tested cricketers to good effect, they could easily outmatch any opponent even before the first ball is bowled.

The Coach and the Mentor:

The Mumbai Indians have a new coach this year: John Wright. He is new to the IPL, but knows Indian cricket like the back of his hand. He had taken up the job of coaching the Indian national team for half a decade in 2000, and was instrumental in creating a team of world-beaters when Indian cricket had hit rock-bottom. Now, this makes Wright exactly what a team like Mumbai Indians needs — a coach who not only instructs, but also leads and nourishes. Wright could do something about the listlessness of domestic talent that has hit the team hard, and also assist in the transition-phase that looms at the horizon when the seniors leave.

Think-Tank-Extraordinare: John Wright and Anil Kumble are Mumbai’s new taskmasters. (File Photo: Getty Images)

Think-Tank-Extraordinare: John Wright (R) and Anil Kumble are Mumbai’s new taskmasters. (File Photo: Getty Images)

Anil Kumble has been appointed as the new mentor for Mumbai Indians. Kumble has played a couple of seasons of the IPL himself, the second of which was a highly successful outing. Working with Wright and peers Tendulkar and Ponting, Kumble could give a whole new direction to a side that has looked especially vulnerable on turning tracks. Now there’s a quartet you cannot beat. Robin Singh and Jonty Rhodes have also decided to stick around, and this may well be the greatest support-staff ever assembled in the IPL.

Lethal Pace, Wily Spin: Problem of Plenty

Mumbai Indians have one of the best bowling attacks in the tournament. Led by Lasith Malinga, who has the most wickets for a bowler in the IPL, the pace battery also includes the likes of Munaf Patel, Mitchell Johnson, James Franklin and Nathan Coulter-Nile. Dhawal Kulkarni has been among wickets too, and both Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Smith can bowl some decent medium-pace.

The Indians have two of the most prolific spinners in the international scene — Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha — in their ranks. Glenn Maxwell got a taste of Indian tracks when he twirled his arms at the recently concluded Australian tour of India, so he’d be a valuable addition.

Weaknesses

Opening Woes:

Post the Jayasuriya-Tendulkar combo of 2008, none of the Mumbai Indians’ opening pairs have looked convincing. In IPL-5, as many as 9 variations were tried out in 14 matches in the hunt for a solid opening pair, and none of them clicked. A year later, the opening conundrum hangs in the air. Aiden Blizzard, Phil Hughes, Sachin Tendulkar, Dwayne Smith, James Franklin and Dinesh Karthik are all specialist openers in their own right. In three years, the average opening partnership for MI has been less than 25. Considering how important it is to get fast, stable starts to put up competitive totals or chase down targets, the Mumbai Indians need an opening pair to click, fast.

The Aged:

T20 is a young man’s game; said nobody ever. But they did say you need fast reflexes and towering strike rates. In such a format, a Kieron Pollard may outweigh a Tendulkar or a Ponting. Mumbai Indians have 6 players in its roster on the wrong side of 30, and age is certainly a disadvantage here. Players who spent decades playing a certain brand of cricket may find it difficult to switch on to a different stance. The average age of the Mumbai Indians’ squad is hovering at 29, the oldest for any IPL side. A contradiction to an earlier point, but true nevertheless.

Lackluster local players:

Mumbai Indians suffers from a case of overdependence on seniors. Victories have mostly been engineered by those with international exposure, though there are notable exceptions in Ambati Rayadu and Dhawal Kulkarni. This year, the roster includes 11 players from the domestic scene; 6 of them will make their IPL debut and the rest have played not more than a couple of matches at best.

The Playmakers

Ricky Ponting: Punter is back in action, and because leadership comes naturally to him, expect a radically different MI this year. Ponting’s KKR-days were ordinary, but those were days marred by constant criticisms about his captaincy of Australia and he was under pressure to perform. Today, he is a free man, so expect some vintage Ponting clobbering.

Glenn Maxwell: This year’s million-dollar baby is called the ‘Big Show’ back home, because he’s constantly trying to hit the ball as hard as he can. A Kevin Peterson-esque flair to his batting combined with some delightful off-spin bowling makes him the complete T20 cricketer. If he does live up to his reputation, Maxwell may well be the X-factor the Indians had been lacking. Also, he’d be looking to redeem himself for the less-than-impressive showing in the recently concluded Border-Gavaskar Test series.

Lasith Malinga: The name inspires fear. Malinga has been a vision of pace and accuracy who has brought MI much success over the years. He is the leading wicket-taker in the IPL, and the four overs he bowls are the most thought-out for by any opposition.

If Mumbai Indians are to prevail, Malinga has to be among wickets.(File Photo: Getty Images)

If Mumbai Indians are to prevail, Malinga has to be among wickets. (File Photo: Getty Images)

Dwayne Smith: Give this man a willow and the word ‘carnage’ comes to mind. Smith burst into the IPL scene in last year’s tournament, scoring aggressively over seven matches with an overall strike-rate of 160. An established match-winner back home in the Caribbean, he has been likened to Sir Viv Richards in some circles.

Rishi Dhawan: Debutant all-rounder coming in from an explosive domestic season. First-class batting average of 42, and has scalped 92 wickets in 26 games. Quite possibly the find of this year’s tournament.

Honorable mention: Sachin Tendulkar – The probability he’ll play in next year’s IPL is in the lower spectrum. Tendulkar will be looking to wrap things up with a bang. The ‘Orange Cap’ winner of IPL-2010, he has amassed over 2000 runs in the tournament so far. Expect him to be among runs, though the strike-rate could use a raise.

So there you have it, some of the biggest names in cricket gearing up to make this Mumbai’s summer. The Mumbai Indians are clearly the team to beat this season.

On a side note, this may be that once-in-a-lifetime moment when we get to see Tendulkar and Ponting — two of the greatest batsmen to ever pick up the willow — playing side-by-side. History beckons.

Squad: Ricky Ponting (C), Abu Nechim, Akshar Patel, Aditya Tare, Aiden Blizzard, Ambati Rayudu, Amitoze Singh, Dhawal Kulkarni, Dinesh Karthik (W), Dwayne Smith, Glenn Maxwell, Harbhajan Singh, Jacob Oram, Jalaj Saxena, James Franklin, Kieron Pollard, Lasith Malinga, Mitchell Johnson, Munaf Patel, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Phil Hughes, Pawan Suyal, Pragyan Ojha, Rishi Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Sachin Tendulkar, Suryakumar Yadav, Sushant Marathe, Yuzvendra Chahal.

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