At times the nature of T20 cricket makes a team's performance appear much better than it was. The game between Mumbai Indians and Sunrisers Hyderabad played at latter's home ground was one such example.
Mumbai had their moments, but they were well and truly the second-best team in the competition for 36 overs, or 90 per cent of the game. Hyderabad miscalculated and lost wickets in a heap at the end, but it was always their game to lose. The game reminded me of last year's final in which Rising Pune Supergiant had their noses in front for almost the entire duration of the game but somehow managed to find a way to take the game deep and lose their nerves in the end. Hyderabad could have repeated the same story, but a timely strike from Deepak Hooda and a surprisingly nerveless Billy Stanlake in the last over saved the day for them.
Rohit Sharma may try to find consolation in the fact that with some more luck, his team could have been the one celebrating at the end, but that would be a cover up for his team's tactical deficiencies and lack of bench strength.
Like most other Indian Premier League (IPL) teams this season, Mumbai's problems start with their injury list. Potent Aussie quicks, Pat Cummins and Jason Behrendorff went out of contention even before the season began. Then an injury to Hardik Pandya in the very first game meant their whole team balance had gone for a toss.
This year's IPL was promoted as the battle of best versus best. It is slowly turning into a battle of bench versus bench. Teams that had built a strong bench during the auction have a better chance to go all the way in this long and gruelling season. Hyderabad had a brilliant outing on auction days when they didn't just cover all bases but also made provision for backing them up. It showed on their team sheet when despite the loss of David Warner and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, their team looked well-balanced.
Could Mumbai have selected their XI differently? With the benefit of hindsight, one may say they could have benefited from having Akila Dananjaya as the second genuine wicket-taking spin option apart from Mayank Markande, who seems to be carrying the burden of this bowling attack on his young shoulders at the moment. But doing that would have meant dropping either Kieron Pollard or Ben Cutting. The IPL is harsh on overseas players and if it means asking Pollard to sit in the dugout to get the team balance right for a game, then so be it. Another option would have been to play JP Duminy instead of Pollard. Duminy can control the game in the middle overs and unlike Pollard, who is very much a non-bowler these days, can give a few handy overs of spin.
At the end of the day, there is only so much you can do with the playing XI after the cards have already been dealt at the auction. It's more important to use your available options in the most clever and judicious way possible.
That brings us to the question of Rohit's batting position. Or more accurately, Rohit's batting position in this team. There is no question about Rohit's value as an opener, and that's clearly his best position when he is playing for India. But the difference there is, even if he gets out early, he has the cushion of seeing a certain Virat Kohli walk out. For Mumbai Indians, he can't be his usual self under the burden of captaincy and knowing that he is the best batsman in the team. Usually, Rohit can drop-kick a full ball on his pads over the boundary for six. In the last game, he tamely flicked it to square leg, indicating his tentative approach.
Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav are both capable stroke makers but coming in at No 3 and 4; they may be in charge of repairing the innings as a pair far too often. Rohit can send Kishan to open the innings and bat at No 3 himself to make sure there is always an experienced head in the middle to shepherd the innings. Suryakumar has done well as a lower-order batsman in the past, and his ideal batting position should be No 5 or 6. This means Pollard has to bat in the top-four, something Mumbai Indians have been reluctant to do for several seasons, but given the resources at hand this season, Pollard must bat in the top-four.
Unfortunately, Mumbai Indians don't have enough time to spend on the drawing board before their next game on Saturday. The season has just started, and they may be reluctant to ditch their pre-season plans so soon. But with a packed IPL schedule, teams must be prepared to adapt quickly to the prevailing circumstances. Mumbai have managed to rally ahead after languishing in the bottom half of the table during the first half of the season, but trying to come from behind isn't a strategy you want to put your bets on.