There is a mythical aura about Mumbai in the context of Indian cricket. The roots of the most powerful and influential cricket playing nation in the world today trace back to this city. It is where the game took its first steps in this country and continues to be its spiritual home. The brightest of diamonds in the country's cricket history, international and domestic, have been cut and moulded on the grounds of Azad Maidan and Shivaji Park.
In the Ranji Trophy, India's premier first-class competition, Mumbai — previously Bombay — have a record so dominating it's almost unfair on the others. There have been 85 editions of the tournament to date, out of which Mumbai have won 41 and finished runners-up on 5 other occasions, including 25 years between 1952 and 1977 where they won 21. They have an excellent record in the Vijay Hazare Trophy too. If there is a domestic cricket tournament in India, Mumbai always start as one of the favourites.
When the Indian Premier League started in 2008, a similar show of dominance was expected from the Mumbai franchise. It took Mumbai Indians five years to get a grip of IPL's ebbs and flows, but things changed one evening in 2013. Five matches into the tournament, Ricky Ponting, unable to shake off the cobwebs of an ageing body and bad batting form, relinquished the captaincy to a young Rohit Sharma. In the 72 months since, MI have won 4 IPLs, the last two by a single run, and have found their familiar aura back. Backed by a coaching and operations team of immense pedigree, they're now, well and truly, the Cricket 2.0 version of Indian cricket's good old Mumbai — dominating, forceful, and always the favourites to navigate through tight situations.
At IPL 2019, Mumbai Indians showed their mastery over the art of starting steady, gradually picking up the pace, and finishing with a crescendo. MI lost two out of their first three, then won a bunch of games midway before sealing the title off with four consecutive wins, two of which came against the Chennai Super Kings. Much of their success this season was driven by their core of Suryakumar Yadav, the Pandya brothers, Keiron Pollard, Jasprit Bumrah, and Lasith Malinga, marshalled superbly by Rohit Sharma.
Suryakumar Yadav is currently the toast of Mumbai cricket, insofar that he has been chosen to lead them in 2019-20 Ranji Trophy. His white-ball form, especially over the last two years, has catapulted him into national team reckoning. After a stupendous IPL 2018, where he top-scored for MI with 512 runs, Yadav was promoted to the top of the order in IPL 2019. He repaid the faith captain Rohit and coach Mahela Jayawardene put in him with 424 runs at an average of 32.61. In the recently concluded Syed Mushtaq Ali Tournament, a nationwide T20 competition, he scored 392 runs in 11 matches at an amazing average of 56 and strike-rate as high as 169.
Between Yadav, Quinton de Kock and Rohit Sharma, Mumbai Indians have a top order that can blunt very good bowling attacks. Follow that up with Hardik, Pollard, and Krunal in the middle, and suddenly, you have a batting lineup that pretty much picks itself on merit and can potentially also give 10 overs of bowling. It is this balance which gives Rohit and Mahela a lot of flexibility to play around with their bowling options according to the pitch and match situation. For instance, in the first qualifier against Chennai Super Kings this year, Rohit used five bowlers in the powerplay overs, thereby never letting the CSK batsmen settle down into a rhythm.
The only reasons for creases on the team management's forehead will come from the fitness of Hardik Pandya and Jasprit Bumrah, both of whom will be coming off long injury breaks. If fit, they will, without doubt, turn matches on their own, but Mumbai Indians will hope to use the auction to build a good enough pool of backups in case rotation is necessary.
IPL 2020 trade window
During the trade window last month, Mumbai Indians released 12 players and brought in Dhawal Kulkarni from Rajasthan Royals, and Trent Boult and Sherfane Rutherford from Delhi Capitals. The released players included a big chunk of seam bowling options in Jason Behrendoff, Alzarri Joseph, Barinder Sran, Rasikh Salam, Beuran Hendricks, and Ben Cutting. Behrendoff's omission comes on the back of the injury he sustained while playing for Sussex this summer. While Cutting's absence can potentially be made up by the young Rutherford, Mumbai will be sorry to let Joseph go, whose spectacular start at the IPL this year — 6 for 12 on debut against Sunrisers Hyderabad — was cut short by a cruel injury in only his third match.
Yuvraj Singh, through retirement, will be one of the biggest absentees from the IPL this season, but he only played four matches last season and there are high chances Mumbai Indians will be able to replace and perhaps improve on his tangible output.
In Kulkarni and Boult, Mumbai have acquired two bowlers with immense IPL and general T20 experience, who, along with MI veteran Mitch McClenaghan, will also be perfect foils for the recovering Jasprit Bumrah and the ageing Lasith Malinga. Although Bumrah might be expected to play most matches, Boult's presence should release the pressure on Malinga and allow MI to use him wisely through the tournament.
Going into the auction — gaps to plug
Mumbai Indians will walk into the IPL 2020 auction with the lowest spending scope amongst all the teams — 13.05 crores — which is also a result of retaining a majority of their existing player roster and core team. With the incoming trades of Kulkarni, Boult, and Rutherford, their squad size is already 18. They only have 9 available slots to fill, including 2 for overseas players.
As expected of such a strong squad, MI have most bases covered. They are adequately stacked with fast bowlers — five frontline options, excluding Hardik and Rutherford — and have three spinners in Rahul Chahar, Anukul Roy, and Jayant Yadav to complement Krunal. Between Hardik, Krunal, Pollard, and Rutherford, their lower order power-hitting and all-round options look in rude health.
Their middle-order batting is one area that needs strengthening. Between Ishan Kishan and the all-rounders, there are enough options to use, but MI would want a specialist number 4 batsman as a cushion for the occasional top-order collapse. What might make this tricky for MI is that they would ideally want at least one Indian option, because on most days, their four overseas slots will be taken up by Quinton de Kock, an all-rounder and a couple of bowlers. They could look at players like Rahul Tripathi, Dhruv Shorey, and Hanuma Vihari, all of whom are experienced but will be expected to put lesser pressure on their purse than overseas options like Shimron Hetmeyer, Colin Ingram, or Colin Munro.
Mumbai Indians will start IPL 2020 as one of the nailed-on favourites, owing to their already stable squad which they will hope to strengthen even further at the auction. The T20 format generally favours teams which with a strong core and a lot of flexibility in batting and bowling orders — both are boxes MI tick without much sweat. In Rohit, they have a batsman who is batting on a scale very few can inhabit and a captain whose reputation as a leader is growing by the day. Rohit has able allies and a strong leadership group in Pollard, Malinga, Boult and de Kock, which will be of invaluable importance during the closing stages of the competition, when matches get tighter and half chances start deciding the fortunes of teams. It will take an enormous effort from the other teams to keep Mumbai Indians away from the playoffs.
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