IPL 2020 MI preview: Formidable Mumbai can break 'odd' sequence but inexperienced spin attack a cause for concern
While Rohit's calm and astute captaincy, the franchise's brave and fearless approach, smart analysis and rigorous preparations form a lethal combo, the inexperience in spin department could be potential banana skin for Mumbai Indians in IPL 2020.
Mumbai Indians' IPL title winning years are 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019. For people who are into numerology (and also those who aren't), there is a high chance the first thing that strikes the mind is that 'odd' sequence. And this being 2020 you might have already written off the defending champions. If you try to delve deep, you will find that after every championship winning year since 2015, Mumbai have bowed out in the group stage the following year.
There's also funny little IPL advert about Mumbai Indian's 'odd' sequence to glory.
I was simply waiting for the clock to strike the right number! Time to go even this #VIVOIPL season, @mipaltan! #KhelBolega https://t.co/gezddNmgH4 pic.twitter.com/nYfdh8vPjf — Rohit Sharma (@ImRo45) March 5, 2020
While the advertisement was all fun, there are indeed chances that Rohit might buck the trend and go even this time. MI have a formidable side at their disposal again. They retained their core and strengthened their bench in the auction, and now have a good mix of youth and experience.
The secret to MI's success last year was built on all-round team performance. Last season, they didn't possess a superstar who won them a title. There were superstars who contributed at crucial junctures. There were four batsmen who scored over 300 runs and five bowlers with more than 10 wickets. That diversity of successful performances could be the key once again.
Over the years, they have given a lot of importance to team bonding and that has played its part in the team firing in unison. It's a different experience this time around with the coronavirus pandemic forcing a whole lot of changes but the team bonding aspect is right up there in the priority list, which could end up playing a vital role given that players have generally found it tough staying in bio-bubbles.
— Mumbai Indians (@mipaltan) September 8, 2020
Mumbai Indians have formed a bubble inside a bubble converting the 15,000 square feet ballroom of the St Regis Al Sadiyaat Island resort in Abu Dhabi into their recreational room to keep spirits high. Families have been allowed to travel and the team has been bonding over different indoor sporting activities along with karaoke sessions.
On the field, the batting department looks the strongest. Quinton de Kock was their highest run-getter last season (529 runs at 35.26) and he's been racking runs in international cricket as well leading the South African side in white-ball cricket. He will open the batting with Rohit Sharma again with Suryakumar Yadav, who scored 424 runs at 32.61 last year and 512 runs at 36.57 in 2018 last season, coming in at 3. Yadav's temperament has stood out in the last couple of years and he can play that aggressor's role as well as the stabilising one.
Rohit hasn't fired according to his lofty standards in the last three seasons averaging below 30 in each of them, but if he finds consistency this time, then this MI top order will be difficult to stop.
The captain confirmed that he will be opening the batting this season but also asserted that if needed, he can adapt to different positions. So alternately, MI have the option of opening with Chris Lynn and de Kock with Rohit moving in at 3 or 4 to give further solidity to the middle order.
The personnel at MI's disposable give them a lot of flexibility in the batting order, a key component in T20s. They have the quality in the all-round department with the likes of Hardik Pandya, Kieron Pollard, Krunal Pandya and depending on the situation, they could promote Hardik or Pollard up the order. Hardik took his power-hitting to another level in the previous edition and could also play the finisher's role while Pollard consistently stands up in crunch situations. He will come into the tournament on back of the fantastic Caribbean League where he led Trinbago Knight Riders to the title going unbeaten through the tournament and also played a key role with the bat and ball. Ishan Kishan might occupy the No 4 slot. Sherfane Rutherford of West Indies and Anukul Roy form good back-up options.
Lasith Malinga opting out of the league this season was a blow for MI. Again, if you are into numbers then there is only one season in which MI didn't qualify for the playoffs/semis with Malinga in the side. In the years he didn't play the full season for MI – 2008, 2016 and 2018 – Mumbai didn't make it out of the league stage. While there is no like-for-like replacement, there is enough experience in the pace bowling tank, especially the foreigners, with the likes of Trent Boult, Mitchell McClenaghan and Nathan Coulter-Nile. Pollard can also prove handy with his cutters on slower tracks along with Hardik Pandya with his variations. James Pattinson replaced the Sri Lanka pacer in the squad but hasn't played any match in the league and is low on experience in T20s.
Jasprit Bumrah will spearhead the bowling attack and there are chances that MI will go in with two foreign pacers because of lack of formidable Indian pace bowling options. In terms of experience, they have Dhawal Kulkarni but he hasn't played the entire season consistently in the league and for the last three seasons he's gone for over nine runs an over in every edition. There is a left-arm medium UP pacer Mohsin Khan who's played just 20 T20s in his career and similar is the case with Digvijay Deshmukh, the Maharashtra pacer, who also played a role of a budding cricketer in the Bollywood movie Kai Po Che. He's played just seven T20s and is in his debut IPL season. So, Boult, Coulter-Nile, Pattinson and McClenaghan will fight for two pacers spot if MI go in with three fast bowlers.
The potential banana skin for MI will be the spin department. With the tournament shifted to UAE and the pitches expected to play slow, MI seem to be short on experience in the spin department. Rahul Chahar had a breakthrough season last year however, he's played just 16 matches in his IPL career and 35 overall in T20s. There will be high reliance on the leg spinner but what if he misfires? There is Krunal, but he can be inconsistent at times.
The other spin bowling options are Anukul Roy, Jayant Yadav, Prince Balwant Rai Singh who have played a combined 13 matches in the league. Compare this to teams like CSK (average of 156.6 matches in T20s) who have the likes of Piyush Chawla, Imran Tahir, Mitchell Santner, Ravindra Jadeja or Delhi Capitals (average of 142 matches in T20s) who have R Ashwin, Amit Mishra, Sandeep Lamichhane, Axar Patel or RCB (average of 100.63 matches in T20s) who boast of Yuzvendra Chahal, Adam Zampa, Washington Sundar and Moeen Ali, and you can see a clear gulf in the experience.
The MI spin department has an average of 42.6 matches in T20s, second-least after Rajasthan Royals (30.125). Given that there will be 20 matches played in Abu Dhabi and 24 in Dubai and MI will play 11 of their 14 matches at these two venues (eight in Abu Dhabi and three in Dubai), spin might be an important factor because of the wear and tear of the pitches. Dependence on just a couple of spinners to fire consistently in the tournament could be tricky. If they try to play an extra spinner then Anukul Roy, who can also bat, is an option in place of one of the pacers or Ishan Kishan.
What can also be slightly concerning is MI's form outside India. They lost all the five matches in the UAE leg in 2014 and had won just five of their 14 when the league was shifted to South Africa in 2009. Rohit was there in 2014 and experienced it. However, since then, a lot has changed including the personnel and he's gone on to win three trophies. But they did get that extra kick while playing at the Wankhede which helped them make numerous comebacks. So, adaptability will be a big factor.
Every year presents an opportunity for the youngsters to make a mark and MI have been known to unearth these talents. They might throw in a surprise or two this season and it's an opportunity for the likes of Ishan Kishan, Suryakumar Yadav and Krunal Pandya to get into the line of selectors' radar once again.
Add Rohit's calm and astute captaincy, the franchise's brave and fearless approach, smart analysis with rigorous preparations, and it forms a lethal combo.
And it indeed won't be odd watching MI break the 'odd' sequence this time around 'even' if it's 2020.
Probable XI: 1 Rohit Sharma, Quinton de Kock, Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan/Anukul Roy, Kieron Pollard, Hardik Pandya, Krunal Pandya, Nathan Coulter-Nile/Mitchell McClenaghan/James Pattinson, Trent Boul, Rahul Chahar, Jasprit Bumrah
Rohit Sharma, Sherfane Rutherford, Suryakumar Yadav, Anmolpreet Singh, Chris Lynn, Saurabh Tiwary, Dhawal Kulkarni, Jasprit Bumrah, Mitchell McClenaghan, Rahul Chahar, Trent Boult, Mohsin Khan, Prince Balwant Rai Singh, Digvijay Deshmukh, Hardik Pandya, Jayant Yadav, Kieron Pollard, Krunal Pandya, Anukul Roy, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Ishan Kishan, Quinton de Kock, Aditya Tare
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