The Mumbai Indians (MI) have a knack of testing their fans' loyalty every season, at least that's how it has been for the last two editions. And while the title holders would have hoped to begin this year's IPL on a different note, they have fallen back to their old script of stumbling their way through the initial few fixtures.
Their latest defeat comes at the hands of bottom-ranked Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) at the latter's home, consolidating this point yet again. With three defeats in four games, Mumbai have once again managed to pitch themselves as favourites for the wooden spoon.
What's more for the pre-tournament favourites, they have looked pedestrian in their four matches barring an inspired batting performance against the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR).
The momentum was with the Sunrisers initially after MI skipper Rohit Sharma lost his second consecutive toss and was asked to bat first. It had rained a bit the previous night in Hyderabad, and the resultant humidity helped the bowlers get swing movement. SRH opening bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar utilised it well during his spell, as did Barinder Sran, who ended up with figures of 3 for 28.
Mumbai would have hoped Black Caps opener Martin Guptill, who has carved a reputation for himself of being a demolisher in the shorter formats, would get going again. Captain Rohit let Parthiv Patel walk out with Guptill, demoting himself down the order. It was to be only the first of a series of changes MI did with their batting line-up.
However, it turned out to be a forgettable debut for Guptill, as he fell victim to an outswinger from Bhuvneshwar Kumar that brushed past the edge of his bat, forcing him to head back to the dugout after scoring just two. Patel also failed to settle in, going for several attempted slogs and swipes before getting his middle-stump uprooted by a back-of-the-hand delivery from Bran.
Rohit just got a few singles during his brief stay at the crease, before committing hara-kiri by running himself out, thanks to a clear lack of communication. Jos Buttler, who has not really shone with the bat in the tournament barring a 22-ball-41 against KKR, also looked shaky before gloving a bouncer down the leg-side to the wicket-keeper.
At 60 for four, the story was getting all-too familiar, and the rest of the script followed suit, just like it had in MI's previous defeats. The 14th and the 15th overs of the Mumbai Innings saw the visitors hammer 39 runs, including 26 off the former. Had it not been for some timely big hitting from Ambati Rayudu and Krunal Pandya, the match could have been over much earlier. But even then, they failed to consolidate on this momentum, as the last three overs of the innings went for just 19 runs.
With a total of 142 for six in 20 overs, the MI batsmen hardly gave their bowlers a target to defend. Given the raging form of Sunrisers skipper David Warner, along with the fact that conditions would be a tad more suitable for batting in the second essay, the odds were heavily stacked in favour of SRH.
But despite this, New Zealand pacer Tim Southee exploited the conditions to produce figures of 3 for 24, which was the only bright spot in a listless bowling performance.
On hindsight, however, there are quite a few glaring errors that spill out of Mumbai's performance. Rohit Sharma said after the match that his batsmen had failed to put up a big score in their defeats so far, again evident in the way the top-order struggled to gather runs while balancing the run-rate.Their first innings totals in the three defeats read: 121 for eight, 143 for eight, and 142 for six. It's safe to say these low totals have resulted in their defeats.
Another factor behind MI's losses is the constant chopping and changing of the batting order, which indicates a muddled thinking on the part of the team management. Whether it is Rohit demoting himself down the order to allow Patel to open the innings, or Rayudu coming in at number three, or Krunal Pandya moving up the order ahead of younger sibling Hardik, the MI think-tank appears utterly confused at the moment, and it bodes ill for the side for the road ahead.
Unless they get their combination right in the next couple of games, their batting unit could prove to be the weak link, and the eventual reason behind a heartbreaking exit ahead of the playoffs.
Not long ago, Rohit had declared his intention of opening the innings. While that worked to an extent against KKR, it did not quite work out in the other matches. Rohit would do better by sticking to a long-term opening partnership with Guptill. Especially so since the duo have the two highest scores in ODI cricket, 264 and 237 not out, both recorded from the opening spot.
Jos Buttler also needs to be assured of a permanent spot in the batting order, not be juggled around. Buttler is yet to consistently fire in the tournament, and his role in the middle-order is quite crucial. The tinkering worked with the likes of Rayudu and Krunal, and the two-time champions can persist with that for now.
The exclusion of New Zealand all-rounder Corey Anderson continues to baffle many, and it is high time he is introduced in the middle-order to add stability to the team’s batting, aside from contributing with the ball. The choice would then be between Buttler and Patel for the wicketkeeper-batsman, and Buttler wins the contest any day in the current circumstances.
Rohit echoed optimism when he said that he was not pressing the panic button, but he certainly needs to pull himself, and the rest of the team, by the scruff and get their act together. Getting a settled unit is probably where they can start with in their following game or two.