IPL 2016: A tale of missed opportunities and question marks for Mumbai Indians
It was a mixed bag for two-time title winners Mumbai Indians, who managed to hoodwink RCB and outclass Delhi Daredevils but defeats to SRH and bottom-placed KXIP hurt their chances
Throughout the ninth edition of the Indian Premier League, Mumbai Indians were the sadists, testing their supporters' patience and loyalty. The team looked wobbly one moment, threatening to implode at the push of a button, playing like a Spartan army on the battlefield the very next. But despite all the successes and failures, of which there were an equal number (7), the two-time champions kept alive the slight hope that they might finish in the top four, a tradition they have been following for the last six editions.
However, defeat to the Gujarat Lions on Saturday meant MI's defence of their title has come to a premature end. Saturday's clash at Green Park Stadium in Kanpur summarised MI's defence of their title. In a do-or-die match, Rohit Sharma's side managed to build early momentum both with bat and ball, but squandered it away with some rash shots as well as loose deliveries. They got a second chance in the middle stages and were set to end on a high, but let themselves down yet again to ultimately surrender tamely before the opposition. In the end, a deserving Gujarat Lions side sailed home by four wickets, leaving Mumbai Indians ashen-faced.
Sadly, however, MI's run in IPL 2016 would just be remembered for a lot of what-ifs. What if Rohit never went for that pull shot off Dhawal Kulkarni in their crucial Gujarat clash? What if Martin Guptill had opened alongside Rohit more often? What if Mumbai had chosen to bat in the match against Sunrisers Hyderabad at Vishakhapatnam, a game they went on to lose by 85 runs? While the tournament produced quite a few positives for the side, they will be overshadowed the overall negative impact of their premature exit from the league.
After getting off to the worst possible start in the tournament — suffering a nine-wicket loss to debutants Rising Pune Supergiants (RPS) at home in the tournament opener — MI kept riding the crests and the troughs of the wave that was their campaign flowing. They were left reeling following four defeats in their first six games, before Rohit led from the front, sparkling with the bat as Mumbai suddenly make a terrific comeback by recording three consecutive victories.
Yes, there were things that did not entirely go their way. Much like Pune, they too lost a couple of key players in Lendl Simmons and Lasith Malinga, aside from being forced to shift their home venue to Visakhapatnam.
But it was a mixed bag for the two-time title winners. While they managed to hoodwink Royal Challengers Bangalore led by the rampaging Virat Kohli, as well as outclass Delhi Daredevils to notch up a massive 80-run win in their penultimate match, defeats to SRH and bottom-placed Kings XI Punjab hurt their chances.
In the last two editions of the tournament, Mumbai managed to come back from near-impossible situations to qualify for the play-offs. Last year, Mumbai had lost their first four matches, and were bottom of the table, before a series of inspirational victories saw them finish second on the points table, before eventually defeating Chennai Super Kings (CSK) twice in the knock-outs to lift the trophy for a second time. But the bitter pill they were forced to swallow this time will serve as a reminder of the perils of over-dependence on luck and past records.
There were flashes of individual brilliance to talk about. Rohit's form with the bat had come under criticism throughout the ICC World T20. But once the going got tough, Rohit got going. Despite a slight decline in the last few games, he finished the group stage as the fourth highest run-getter, with a total of 489 runs at 44.45, including five half-centuries.
Ambati Rayudu was the other consistent willow wielder in the side. Although his tally of 334 runs at 30.36 may not be enough to get him in the top-10, he was instrumental in forming vital second-wicket partnerships with Rohit after the inevitable early first wicket. Rayudu's role may not be as celebrated as that of his captain, but he did his part loyally on most occasions, and deserves to be applauded for the same.
The rest of the batting order had their respective turns hogging the limelight. Whether it was Parthiv Patel with a match-winning 81, a 17-ball half-century by Kieron Pollard, also the fastest by an MI batsman, Jos Buttler's 22-ball-41 against Kolkata Knight Riders, or Krunal Pandya's masterful 37-ball-86 that propelled Mumbai to 206 against Delhi. Or even the 36-ball-70 from Nitish Rana on Saturday, that helped Mumbai get to a respectable total before ultimately succumbing to a loss in their final game. They all had their moments, but the game is all about how often one can produce such knocks.
The bowling department was not bad either, even in the absence of their all-time leading wicket-taker Malinga. Mitchell McClenaghan, who wore the purple cap for the longest stretch in the tournament, formed a formidable new-ball pair with fellow New Zealander Tim Southee, and the two were able to utilise early swing movement to get the breakthroughs for their side. In Malinga's absence, he's proved himself to be the new leader of the attack, and this season will also contribute to his growth for the national side.
Jasprit Bumrah, the discovery of IPL 2015, continued his good work, getting crucial wickets in the middle stages, and came in handy during the death overs as well with a barrage of yorkers. His figures of 3/13 in four overs against Delhi Daredevils, outstanding by T20 standards, would have bagged him the man-of-the-match award had it not been for Krunal's magical innings. Veteran offie Harbhajan Singh also came in handy on a few occasions, but it may not be enough for him to boost his case for national selection. At the end of league stage, he was the eighth-highest wicket-taker, having grabbed 15 scalps at 27.06. Aside from his batting exploits, Krunal also showed that he could get the ball to turn and get a wicket or two as well.
But if there were a few individual success stories, there were also the disappointments. While Krunal turned out to be the find of this tournament, younger brother Hardik sadly could not repeat his glory of the 2015 edition, which had helped fast-forward his India selection earlier this year. Parthiv, too, was given a plenty of chances at the top of the order, perhaps a bit more than what he deserved given his form. Who knows, maybe Guptill could have provided better starts alongside his skipper. And let's not even get started on the way the team management ignored the services of New Zealand all-rounder Corey Anderson.
While it is important to have a settled unit by the middle stages of a tournament, one that would be instrumental in the team's success, Anderson's established track record and match-winning knocks like the one against Rajasthan Royals back in 2014 should have merited him a chance or two. Maybe his big-hitting could have come handy in the match against Gujarat Lions, where the top and middle-order barely clicked on one of the best batting surfaces in the country.
With a coaching staff comprising legends such as Ricky Ponting, Jonty Rhodes, Shane Bond and a mentor in Sachin Tendulkar, MI wouldn't be surprised to see the other franchises turn green with envy. However, Rohit and Co need to go back to getting their basics right, and hopefully turn the tables next year. One bad season is not the end of the world, and few understand the notion better than Rohit.
Till then, let us sit back and watch Virat Kohli and Royal Challengers script a turnaround the likes of which would make MI proud!
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