Mumbai Indians played their seventh match of IPL 2016 on Monday, becoming the first side to reach the halfway point, and despite there being more downs than ups for this side, they have still somehow managed to keep themselves afloat. And though they are just one or two defeats away from elimination, one cannot rule out the possibility of them producing a tremendous turnaround in their next seven games, given the mercurial nature of the side.
In their latest fixture, against bottom-ranked Kings XI Punjab, they managed to push the David Miller-led side further into the oblivion by handing them a 25-run defeat in their own backyard.
Despite the dullness of the opposition, who registered their fifth loss in six games, Mumbai have a lot of positives to take away, be it the batting line-up stepping up after a rare failure from captain Rohit Sharma, or the death bowling that managed to get break a dangerous partnership and strangulate the opposition to a painful end.
The biggest takeaway for Mumbai would be wicket-keeper Parthiv Patel's return to form, following a series of quick cameos that were never converted. Patel was instrumental in turning Mumbai's campaign around last year as well, as his partnership with Lendl Simmons gave them several good starts. But this year, he did not quite click despite getting the early starts, much like the way Shikhar Dhawan does for Team India or for his IPL franchise Sunrisers Hyderabad.
It was not exactly a rosy script that Patel followed, being caught at deep square leg for 20, but was saved after Mitchell Johnson was found have overstepped. Even off the resultant free hit, he could only get caught at mid-wicket. However, he turned his innings around thereafter, stitching a 137-run stand with Ambati Rayudu, helping Mumbai post 189 for six, their highest total of the tournament. Having won the man-of-the-match award, and having restored his captain's faith in him, Patel has surely managed to secure his berth in the team (Martin Guptill, and maybe even Jos Buttler would be a bit disgruntled).
Though Mumbai fans have Patel to thank for Monday, and skipper Rohit for their previous wins against Kolkata Knight Riders and Royal Challengers Bangalore, the one man who has played a valuable role in all their successful outings this year has been Ambati Rayudu.
Rayudu was shunted around in the middle-order for the first three games, even seeing Hardik Pandya earn a promotion to number three in one of Mumbai's several experiments. But he has pretty much sealed that spot for himself now, as suggested recently by coach Ricky Ponting.
While Rohit and Parthiv stole the limelight with their impact knocks, Rayudu has been by far the most consistent batsman when it has come to getting valuable runs on the board and forming partnerships that sustained the Mumbai batting, though the team's performances can only be be described as unpredictable.
He has been there when no one else has, whether it was during a 49-ball 54 against Sunrisers Hyderabad in a losing cause, or forming a crucial second-wicket partnership with Rohit that helped set up their successful chase of a competitive target set by Bangalore. He has been there for the side with valuable runs on most occasions; he is to Mumbai Indians what Ajinkya Rahane is to Rising Pune Supergiants — except Rayudu has had a bigger impact on the results despite the latter scoring way more runs.
It was a similar story for Rayudu last year as well, and he produced match-winning performances for his side while batting in the middle-order and contributing with valuable runs when the chips were down. He wasn't celebrated as much as the likes of Lendl Simmons, or the new discoveries: Hardik Pandya and Jasprit Bumrah. But Rayudu played his part, an essential cog in the wheel that went on to roll along towards a second title win. And he has been doing so ever since he made his debut for Mumbai, seven years ago. In this time, he has become a vital member of the two-time champions, alongside international stalwarts like Harbhajan Singh, Lasith Malinga, Kieron Pollard, Rohit Sharma etc.
Given the current form that he is, it is likely that he will get runs on various surfaces in the tournament and against all kinds of bowling attacks — whether spin-heavy Kolkata, pace-dominated Hyderabad or the evenly balanced Delhi. And though his performances for Mumbai may not necessarily guarantee him a place in the national team, as has been the case for so long, he can be counted on to continue getting the runs for Ponting and Co. For the team's sake, however, it would be ideal if all sections of the batting order click together more often and give their ever-improving bowling attack something solid to defend.