"As the IPL continued to evolve, it confirmed to me more and more that Mumbai Indians have no weaknesses. That’s internationally as well, let alone in the IPL. The more the Mumbai Indians played in the tournament, more and more, it felt they had no weaknesses."
Shane Watson summed up Mumbai Indians' campaign succinctly in his post-tournament analysis on his YouTube channel post IPL 2020. It was a testament to Mumbai Indians' astute team building and shrewd buys in the IPL auctions year after year. And it reflected in their performance in the IPL 2020, where they lifted their fifth trophy in the last eight years. It was a near-perfect performance from MI and the numbers spoke of their domination. They beat every team in the league at least once. They aced almost all phases of T20s. They had: the best middle overs run rate (7.89); the best death overs run rate (12.09); the second-best powerplay run rate (7.91); the best powerplay economy rate (6.99); the best economy rate in the death overs. And they fired in unison with six batsmen scoring over 200 runs (two over 500, one over 400, one over 300, and two over 200) and four bowlers picking up over 10 wickets.
Hardly do you witness such domination in such a long tournament.
Season after season, they retain their core. Make astute auction buys and trade. Form a formidable squad and start off as favourites.
This season is no different. They have a powerful squad. An even stronger core and no glaring weaknesses. An unprecedented hattrick of titles is a strong possibility as they head into the 14th edition of the league.
Mumbai will play five matches in Chennai, four in Delhi, three in Bengaluru and two in Kolkata.
Their strength is the mix of experience, intelligence and flamboyance in the squad. With Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav making their India debuts, their core has gotten even stronger. And they will be riding high on confidence with the starts they have had in the international arena. Kishan and Yadav hit fifties in their debut innings to make an immediate impression. They were also crucial contributors in their title win last season.
One of the reasons for their success is the consistency in their selection. Match after match, they retain the same eleven - their core and make changes only based on the opposition and the match-ups. And they are not scared to make brave changes as well. Their batting, bowling and all-round departments, all look ominous. The batting picks itself with Rohit Sharma and Quinton de Kock as openers. Suryakumar Yadav slotting in at 3 with Ishan Kishan coming in at four. If one of the openers struggles or gets injured, they have a ready backup in the explosive Chris Lynn. Kishan can also shift to open.
The all-round department consists of game-changers in Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya. Krunal Pandya, who recently struck a half-century on ODI debut for India, has also become a vital cog in the team. Nathan Coulter-Nile, who was released and then bought back in the auction, can slot as a bowling all-rounder to provide depth to the batting if required.
With such a strong line-up, it gives MI the luxury to change around their batting line-up according to situations. The batsmen have shown adaptability as well, which is a testament to their versatility. Hardik Pandya has taken his power-hitting to another level. Pollard can change the course of the game single-handedly and he has this knack of stepping up and winning matches from near improbable situations. New Zealand's James Neesham is another player MI bought in the auction and forms a strong backup option in the all-round department. That top, middle and lower-middle order elicits awe.
The pace department will be spearheaded by Jasprit Bumrah. He will come into the tournament refreshed, having taken a break from international cricket. Last season, the performances of Trent Boult, who regularly laid platforms with early wickets, and James Pattinson, allowed Rohit Sharma to use Bumrah more in the middle and death overs. And he was fantastic in all three phases of the game. MI released Pattinson but have added Adam Milne of New Zealand. MI have a knack of picking up under the radar bowlers who can bowl fast. Milne has decent numbers in T20 cricket averaging 24.04, striking every 18.7 balls and having an economy rate of 7.69.
They can also unleash 20-year-old 6'8'' South African left-arm seamer Marco Jansen who impressed Virat Kohli in nets on India's 2018 tour of South Africa. MI have been scouting Jansen for two years and they have this habit of providing a platform and unearthing gems.
The lack of experience in the spin department was one of the concerns last season but they bought Piyush Chawla, who has won two trophies with KKR and is the third-highest wicket-taker in the league, in the auction to plug that hole. Rahul Chahar, though, might still be their go-to spinner. He's had a meteoric rise in the last few years and also achieved that India cap.
The spinners will play a crucial role given that MI play nine of their 14 group stage matches in Chennai and Delhi which have slow and turning wickets. MI have the variety in their spin department. Jayant has been specifically used as the match-ups bowler against teams who are left-hand heavy. Chawla had a tough time last season, averaging 31.83 and giving away 9.09 runs in CSK's dismal campaign. However, he's warmed up well for this season with consistent performances in the Syed Mushtaq Ali and Vijay Hazare trophies in the domestic arena. Krunal provides another spin option but his inconsistency can be tricky.
The spin department isn't as formidable as the pace. While it cannot be termed as their weakness, the opposition can still look to target the spinners and put them under pressure. The flat wickets at M Chinnaswamy in Bangalore will post a stern challenge. The pacers generally, though, cover up for inadequacies in the spin department when they have an off day.
Hardik returning to bowl is a huge shot in the arm for not just India but MI as well. It might give them the option to play an extra spinner on slower surfaces and his slower cutters could be lethal on these pitches. Pollard too can provide handy overs with his cutters. The pacers will enjoy bowling on fast-bowling friendly Eden Garden wickets but they showed in the UAE that they are adaptable on slower wickets too.
One of the keys to their success last season was their adaptability to different conditions and dimensions in the UAE. They will have to show that adaptability this time around as well, with the team playing at four different venues.
It's an opportunity for the younger players like Anukul Roy, Anmolpreet Singh, Arjun Tendulkar, Yudhvir Charak to gain valuable knowledge and experience rubbing their shoulders with some of the best in the world. Some might even have a chance to get on the field if MI manage to qualify early like last year.
Rohit has grown as a leader year after year and his captaincy combined with team management's strategic planning and a powerful squad makes for a deadly combo.
A majestic T20 machine, MI have the required ammunition on the field and off it as well in form of their backroom staff who know the perfect recipe for success. They fire as a collective unit.
It’s a different year but the story remains the same. And it won't be a surprise to see the habitual winners continue their winning habit this season as well.
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Defending champions MI's middle-order hasn't fired yet and Boult said the batsmen wouldn't be too pleased about it.
Defending 150, leg-spinner Chahar (3/19) stifled the middle-order before Boult (3/28) polished off the tail as SRH were bowled out for 137 in 19.4 overs.
"Mumbai Indians captain Rohit Sharma has been fined after his team maintained a slow over rate during their IPL 2021 match against Delhi Capitals at the MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai on 20 April," the IPL said in a statement.