'Ashes to ashes dust to dust, if Hardik doesn't get you, Krunal must'.
Sounds like an exaggeration to have replaced the names of Australian legends Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson after whom the credo had been modelled? Well, it might, but given the consistency with which the Pandya brothers – Hardik and Krunal – have been denting oppositions, Mumbai Indians fans may well have a new slogan by the end of the season.
So if it was Hardik's slam-bang batting that caught the eye against Rising Pune Supergiant and Kolkata Knight Riders, it the the turn of the older Pandya to wield the long handle to devastating effect against Sunrisers Hyderabad, as the defending champions were stopped in their tracks by a resurgent Mumbai Indians at their fortress – the Wankhede – on Wednesday.
Krunal came in at the fall of Kieron Pollard's wicket and smashed 37 off 20 balls, with three sixes and three fours. Though by that time, Mumbai had a firm grip on the match, what Krunal's innings did was to snuff out any hopes that the Hyderabad may have had of a comeback. Krunal's knock on Wednesday succeeded an inspired bowling performance against KKR last Sunday, that saw him conceding just 24 runs from his quota of four overs, going at a rate that is excellent by T20 standards and what's more, got three crucial wickets, including that of KKR captain Gautam Gambhir. To add icing to the cake, his younger sibling had a hand in two of his wickets, taking two fine catches in the deep.
What the Pandya brothers, therefore, bring to the table is all-round value. They are players who would you an aggressive 30-40 when the chips are down, or when you need to up the ante and then when you need to break partnerships, the Pandya brothers would be there to provide them for you. It may not be often that they would run through an opposition, or score a destructive century a'la Chris Gayle, but their contributions make significant impact at key moments of the game, which makes them immensely vital cogs in the Mumbai Indians wheel, and it may not be long before the Pandya brothers emerge as one of the biggest stars in Indian cricket.
And talking of vital cogs for Mumbai, Nitish Rana is certainly proving to be one as well. After setting up the win over KKR with a swashbuckling 50 off 29 balls in the last match, and contributing a handsome 34 off 28 balls in the 'Maharashtra derby', the young left-hander was in his elements against SRH too, as he stroked 45 off 36 balls. He gave solidity to the batting after the fall of Rohit Sharma's wicket.
The fact that Mumbai captain Rohit, who is also one of the premier batsmen of the side, sent Rana ahead of him in the match against KKR speaks volumes about the faith the MI management has on the southpaw. In a recent interview, Rana spoke on how be gained from being in close proximity to legends like Sachin Tendulkar and Mahela Jayawardene in the Mumbai dressing room, which really reinforces the fact that one of the roles the Indian Premier League (IPL) plays is that of a nursery for talent, and is not simply masala cricket marked by a 'hit and a giggle'.
The efforts of Rana and the Pandya brothers with the willow have been all the more important for Mumbai as they significantly beef up the side's middle order. The Mumbai middle order may look a bit thin on paper, especially after the injury to Ambati Rayudu, but looks can be deceptive and Rana, Hardik and Krunal have proved that there is more to the Mumbai middle order than just Pollard. And this, coupled with the form that Parthiv Patel and Jos Buttler are at the top of the order and the potential of Rohit, makes Mumbai a very capable batting unit.
However, while commending the Mumbai batting, their bowling must not be lost sight of, for it was the latter that set up the victory on Wednesday, before Rana and Krunal put the finishing touches with the bat. They have been significantly bolstered by the return of Lasith Malinga, who is a master of 'death' bowling and have been one of their most consistent performers over the years. But what makes the Mumbai bowling line-up one of the best in the tournament and most feared is that they have an Indian version of Malinga in their ranks too, in the form of Jasprit Bumrah. Both have slinging actions and both are very proficient with their yorkers and changes of pace which makes them extremely difficult to get away.
Bumrah reminded one of his worth and showed why he is so highly regarded with a Man of the Match showing on Wednesday, that consisted of three wickets in his four overs, at six runs per over. Those are top figures in T20 cricket. The fact that he got rid of Ben Cutting who was starting to look mighty dangerous, that too with a perfect yorker, makes Bumrah's contribution all the more special. Cutting's wicket at a crucial time in the match would have made a difference of at least 20-25 runs, which would have made the SRH total much competitive than it eventually was.
A word has also to be said on Harbhajan Singh. The team's elder statesman proved there is no replacement for experience and skill as he came up with a quality performance, ending up with figures of 4-0-23-2. Add him to any team and the bowling would look markedly formidable.
Mumbai skipper Rohit heaped praise on the Pandya brothers at the end of the match, saying that it was a 'treat' to watch them from the dugout and that the MI management had given them the licence to go and express themselves.
Mumbai, therefore, is looking a balanced side and their campaign is up and running after their loss in their season opener in Pune made people fear for the worst. Though they don't need to change much, a strategic alteration that they may want to consider is to have Rohit open the innings with Parthiv. Though as Parthiv said, the idea of having Rohit coming down the order is to give the batting stability and give the openers the freedom to go after the bowling in the powerplay overs, that role can well be performed by Buttler. Rohit has been quite successful opening the innings, and it may be considered to help get him back in form after a long injury-induced layoff.
The Wankhede has proven to be a staunch ally for Rohit and Co and the two wins on the trot here have given them momentum. But now they will travel to Bengaluru to face Royal Challengers Bangalore. How they fare way will go a long way in determining whether Mumbai can repeat the success of 2013 and 2015.