Saturday, May 5, 2012

Tentativeness causing Mumbai Indians dearly ..!

We are now nearly two-thirds into in the league stage of IPL 5 and the battle for play-off places is hotting up in right earnest. Delhi Daredevils are head and shoulders above other teams and will walk into the play-offs with their next win. Kolkata Knight Riders are finally getting their act together and, if they win their 'away' game against Pune Warriors later today, should be nicely poised for a play-off spot. But the final two spots in the play-offs can be anybody's game. And of the remaining 7 sides, none has looked convincing enough to lay a solid claim on a play-off spot. Two-time champions CSK are looking a shadow of their former self (though only a foolish man will write them off just yet). RCB have two serious issues viz. Kohli's slump and weak links in their bowling. Royals and Pune Warriors started off by promising a lot but are in danger, Pune Warriors especially, of losing steam mid-way. Deccan Chargers have lived to their reputation as one of the weakest sides and are almost out of contention. Their only job now, it seems, will be to spoil someone else's party !!. Kings XI Punjab have made giant strides in the past couple of weeks (beating CSK, RCB and Mumbai Indians all in their own backyard) and in Mandeep Singh and Parwinder Awana, they seem to have unearthed decent talents. They are now serious contenders for a play-off spot. And finally, the team that had probably the best XI on paper have disappointed. And, in my opinion, there are good reasons why Mumbai Indians have performed the way they have.

Of course, this is not to say that they are out of the IPL. In fact, they are sitting well in third place today. But the way their victories have come about hardly inspires any confidence. Rohit Sharma took them home in their earlier game against Deccan, while Peterson and Rayadu got them out of jail by getting 32 in 2 overs against KXIP. Apart from the first game against Chennai, they have had close victories (admittedly, this tournament has had more than its share of close finishes :). And like most other teams, there are serious chinks in the supposedly strong Mumbai order. And the problem starts with the top. MI have made a reputation for starting off in a test match format. The rotation of openers has not helped either. Franklin and Tendulkar are a stable opening combination now but neither of them seems inclined to take the attack to the bowler in the first 3-4 overs. Other teams have a Gayle, a Sehwag, a Rahane or a Du Plessis that hit the ground running, but not Mumbai Indians. It is this tentativeness at the start of their innings that is a big cause of concern. One can understand the tentativeness if this was a top-heavy batting order. But with proven performers like Rohit, Pollard, Rayudu and Karthik to follow, one really cannot figure out why Mumbai Indians almost prefer to be 30-0 after 6 overs. Or is it because of that ? On the other hand, look at the Daredevils. With Sehwag, Mahela, KP (now Warner) and Taylor as their top 4, their strategy is simply to intimidate and take the game away from the bowlers in the first 6 overs. I am sure they are mindful of the fact that Nos 5 onwards, they have a slight problem but that has not detered them from being aggressive at the top. It is time Mumbai Indians batsmen start dictate terms at the start of their innings. Another interesting option could be to try Karthik at the top. Most opposing teams now open with a spinner and Karthik is a good player of spin and could upset some plans especially with the fielding restrictions in place. It is surprising how Bhajji and the team management have not tried this out. Another issue is with the team composition. It seems that they prefer to go with a better bowling attack, often at the cost of slightly weakening the batting. It makes sense, of course, since, as we have seen with RCB, a weak link in the bowling can cost you a game or two. But with Malinga, Munaf, Ojha, Harbhajan as four main bowlers and Perera, Peterson and Franklin as back-up (as was the case in the Pune game) it is obvious that couple of the bowlers would be under-utilized. What Mumbai Indians need is another aggressive and specialist batsman, as they seem to have too many all-rounders in their side (Franklin, Perera, Peterson, Harbhajan). Which is why I have been crying out from the first game that Suryakumar Yadav needs to be given a chance. He is aggressive and scores at a fast clip in domestic cricket. It is high team that he is given a chance. My ideal XI would be:

Sachin, Karthik, Rohit, Rayudu, Pollard, Suryakumar Yadav, Franklin / Perera, Bhajji, Malinga, Munaf, Ojha/RP Singh.

Of course, all is not lost. For once, Mumbai Indians have been unlucky with injuries. Their three main players have hardly played together. Sachin was out for two weeks after the first game, then Malinga went back to Sri Lanka with back spasms and now Pollard is out with a shoulder injury. They would dearly hope to seem all three play atleast the last four league games. But, injury concerns not withstanding, they need to get their combination right and show aggression in their batting. Tommorow's game against CSK would be big. I predict that whoever wins tommorow would gain crucial momentum and will march on to the play-offs while the other team will have more days of struggle ahead.


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