With the much-awaited Indian Premier League (IPL) Auction 2017 around the corner, two-time winners Mumbai Indians will go head to head in search of world-class additions to bolster their squad.
After failing to reach the playoffs in the previous edition, the Rohit Sharma-led team will look for players who can plug a few gaps. A total of 351 players will feature at the auction in Bangalore on 20 February.
Last season, MI were haunted by injuries which proved to be costly as they struggled to find consistency and squandered their chances in crucial matches. MI opened with Lendl Simmons, who was later forced to leave midway due to injury and was replaced by Martin Guptill. Parthiv Patel partnered Rohit Sharma in the opening slot, but unfortunately, that did not pan out as expected. Regardless of their opening headache, they will look to bounce back this time around with a proper mix of batsmen, bowlers and all-rounders.
Not very long ago, MI had match winners-cum-stars like Sachin Tendulkar, Shaun Pollock, Ricky Ponting, Andrew Symonds, Mike Hussey and Zaheer Khan, who offered leadership and discipline on and off the field. The current side, though, misses a figure like that and need the swagger back if they are to get back to their best this season.
The exciting part is that former Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene has replaced former Australia captain Ricky Ponting as the head coach of MI. Jayawardene has already played for three franchises in the IPL - Kings XI Punjab, Kochi Tuskers and Delhi Daredevils. His addition to the fray brings a truckload of experience and understanding of the game as a mentor.
As always, MI have retained most of their core players (20) for this season but can only bag seven in the auction, given that the squad strength allowed is 27 per team. But, after releasing Corey Anderson - who was out due to fitness concerns, Guptill - who came in as a replacement for injured Simmons and several Indian players, MI will be eager to find strong reinforcements.
Interestingly, MI will need to be very calculative at the auction as they have the least purse (11.5 crores) remaining compared to other teams, but they will go for the one's who fits the bill swiftly. There are three spots left for the overseas players and four for Indian.
However, their biggest asset remains their domestic-player strength. Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya have featured in India’s dominant performance in recent games whereas Parthiv Patel, Vinay Kumar and even Siddhesh Lad - who is one of the emerging stars have had a good Ranji Trophy. Harbhajan Singh, on the other hand, is finding his feet at the Syed Mushtaq Ali inter-zonal tournament and captain Rohit Sharma will be coming back from injury.
The experience is there but the theme needs to change this season. MI have made it a habit of making slow starts and leaving it late to claw back in the tournament. The IPL season gets better and more competitive with each season and MI are aware of the fact that they need some really good additions in order to prevail over past issues so that the players can match up with the fast tempo it requires.
So, what MI need is an explosive opening batsman - preferably an overseas player since Guptill has been released and Jos Butler expected to return early for national duty.
England's Jason Roy, who recently made his interest to play in the IPL public, could be the one to look out for. The hard-hitting opener has been in the form of his life and has proved his worth for Sydney Sixers, Chittagong Kings and England recently and can be the ideal buy for MI. Adelaide Strikers' wicket-keeper batsman Ben Dunk and Afghanistan's Mohammad Shahzad have also queued up as good options for the Mumbai franchise. Another player to watch out will be New Zealand's all-rounder Colin Munro. Munro can replace compatriot Anderson and will be a good back-up for Kieron Pollard.
As things stand, Pollard is the number one all-rounder, but Angelo Mathews, Thisara Periera and Daniel Christian can provide stiff competition if purchased. Imran Tahir, Pawan Negi and Mehedi Hasan Miraz can shoulder Harbhajan Singh in their line-up.
In the bowling department, Lasith Malinga and Mitchell McClenaghan will take charge alongside in-form India pacer Jasprit Bumrah. MI might have their sights on England's Tymal Mills and New Zealand's Matt Henry, who have been in great form lately. If Malinga or McClenaghan are deemed unfit, Tim Southee and Matt Henry - if Mumbai successfully lures him - can take up the senior pacer’s role without hesitation.
Apart from the overseas players, MI will be eyeing to bag a few Indian batsmen for flexibility. Local lad Prithvi Shaw is one target who has shown glimpses of his matured game in the Ranji Trophy but his contribution in the shorter format of the game remains a gamble. Abhinav Mukund and Manoj Tiwary can come handy who can ease off some pressure for Rohit and Parthiv.
The core has been retained but the bench strength needs to improve plus there is a need for some strong reinforcements.
As always, the expectations will be high and MI would want to spend wisely to find the missing piece. The definite need is one overseas player, one all-rounder and a couple of homegrown talents. With a formidable squad and a pretty decent coaching staff in - Jonty Rhodes, Shane Bond, Mahela Jayawardene - MI will be looking to grab a record third title in their IPL journey.