The lower middle-order of the Mumbai Indians squad, consisting of Hardik Pandya, Kieron Pollard and Krunal Pandya, has often been lauded as the backbone of the side. The trio is as explosive as dynamite in the death overs and has the potential to provide 6-8 overs with the ball in every single game.
But the initial phase of the 2021 Indian Premier League (IPL) has not gone their way. This has directly affected the fortunes of the side. Mumbai Indians have lost three of their five matches so far, with the highest score produced by their batting unit being just 159 runs.
A string of low scores by Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya, combined with the fact that a shoulder injury to the younger Pandya preventing him from from contributing with the ball, has suddenly exposed the vulnerability of Krunal Pandya. It was a general perception that the team had a nice balance to it, but the current scenario has brought up a crucial question – are they short of either a bowling or a batting option?
Here, we try to examine the role of Krunal Pandya in the Mumbai Indians side and what he brings to the table. Let us also check whether it will be prudent for the side to stick with Krunal Pandya at the number 7 spot.
How long can Mumbai Indian's stick with Krunal Pandya at 7?
Krunal Pandya, the batsman
Krunal Pandya's golden period with the bat in the IPL was between 2016 and 2018. He scored over 200 runs in all three seasons at a strike rate of 154. It is no surprise that the middle-order of the Mumbai Indians side looked quite potent during this period.
However, his form with the bat has tapered off in the last couple of seasons. The southpaw has aggregated just 289 runs across the last two seasons. The strike rate, which is the most critical element for a batsman batting in his position in the T20s, has come down drastically to 119.
This, somehow, did not come under scrutiny since Hardik Pandya and Kieron Pollard were having a great time with the bat. Hardik raked up 683 runs in the last two seasons at a strike rate of 160. Pollard, on the other hand, amassed 547 runs, striking at 172.
But things have not been the same in the 2021 IPL season. The middle-order trio have not had a favorable season up until now. All three have combined to score just 130 runs from 120 deliveries. This means that the Mumbai Indians haven’t had the much-needed impetus towards the end of the innings in any of their games so far. This has put immense scrutiny on Krunal Pandya.
Struggles with the ball
Krunal Pandya is no doubt a useful bowler in the T20 format. However, his utility is as a bowler who can give you 2-3 overs a game, 4 on a good day, and provide a good finish to the innings batting at 7. The moment he becomes one of the five frontline bowlers, a problem arises for the side.
With Hardik Pandya unable to bowl, the Mumbai Indians are in a spot of bother. Pollard can give you a couple of overs now and then, but he is hardly effective on pitches on which the ball doesn’t grip or hold.
Whenever Krunal Pandya has had a bad day with the ball, Rohit Sharma's side have struggled to contain the opposition batsmen. This was once again on display this season when Krunal was taken apart in the last three matches of MI.
While the average run rate in all these matches played at Chepauk was under 8 runs an over, Krunal conceded over 10 runs an over in two matches and 8.5 runs an over in the match against the Delhi Capitals. This was when all the other spinners combined went about for less than 7 runs per over in these matches.
This inconsistency is not a new aspect of Krunal’s career. In the last season, he was either at par with the general scoring rate in the match or had an economy rate worse than that in 7 out of the 16 matches that the Mumbai Indians played. He could not complete his quota in 5 of these matches. It meant that the captain had to go to Kieron Pollard to complete the tally of the fifth bowler in all these matches.
Economic rates are key for Krunal Pandya
When you are not a wicket-taking bowler, just being on par with the run rate is not sufficient. You need to be delivering consistently by keeping the opponent's scoring rate under check to continue contributing to your team.
Krunal Pandya is not a prime wicket-taking option for his captain by any stretch of the imagination. While the spinners have picked up an average of 4.4 wickets in MI's matches this season, Krunal’s tally is only three wickets. Last season was no different. While the spinners averaged 2.93 wickets in the matches that MI played, the left-arm spinner aggregated just 6 wickets, that is, 0.375 wickets per match.
Hence, the lack of wicket-taking ability of Krunal Pandya, combined with the inconsistency with both the ball and the bat, have presented a serious concern for Rohit Sharma and the management.
Should Krunal Pandya be replaced?
Considering the lack of form with the bat that the lower middle-order is going through, combined with the inability of Hardik Pandya to contribute with the ball, it won’t be strange if Mumbai Indians begin thinking of dropping Krunal Pandya from the playing XI.
Rohit Sharma can opt for a better bowler who can contribute with the bat, or a better batsman who can bowl a couple of overs according to the conditions on offer. Mumbai Indians are not a side that tinkers with their line-up a lot, but they can have players like Piyush Chawla and Anukul Roy in the wings who can be tried out before going into the business end of the tournament.