IPL 2023, Mumbai Indians Preview | World-Beaters in danger of enduring another disastrous campaign

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After lifting the IPL title five times in eight years under ace Rohit Sharma, Mumbai Indians earned the famous ‘World Beaters’ tag by 2020. However, they had bitter memories last year that they would be hoping to erase soon, but practically, IPL 2023 is unlikely to be a season for them to remember.

In the initial years of the Indian Premier League (IPL), Mumbai Indians did not seem like a settled side. They failed to get a place in the knockout stages in IPL 2008 and IPL 2009 and then improved their numbers by advancing to the final phase in three successive seasons. After that, with masterly performances season after season, they shut up their critics to become the most successful franchise in the tournament.

No wonder IPL is a competition where each season throws up new challenges to make it increasingly stimulating. Ahead of last year’s mega auction, the Rohit Sharma-led franchise was the one that suffered the most. They were doomed when Hardik Pandya and Krunal Pandya, whom they transformed from promising youngsters into global champions, did not get a place on their retainers’ list. Quinton de Kock and Trent Boult, who played instrumental roles in helping their side defend the title in IPL 2020 successfully, were not retained either. Unsurprisingly, they all earned big bucks during the bidding wars, where Mumbai could only bring Ishan Kishan among their familiar faces. Thus, out of nowhere, the franchise, considered the ‘greatest ever side in T20s’ after they stamped their authority in the IPL, went into a transition phase.

Moments after numerous stalwarts departed in one go, Mumbai knew they were in trouble in IPL 2022. But the way others crucified them one after another last year was not on the cards. Five-time champions losing the opening eight games on the trot – one can imagine the tough times they were going through. They languished bottom of the points table in the end, and as a team, they seemed like they were not ready to serve at the highest level.

Mumbai’s average first-innings total of 164.2 in IPL 2022 was the third-lowest, and their overall average total of 158.36 was the second-lowest. The numbers indicate their struggles to construct the innings, and the biggest disappointment for them was Rohit Sharma himself, who could only muster 268 runs in 14 outings, that too at an uncharacteristic 120.17 strike rate. Ishan Kishan did not live up to his lofty expectations either, with an aggregate of 418 runs at only 120.11. Morning shows the day, and the Mumbai openers, who failed to leave bowlers trembling in their wake, played decisive roles in their dubious results.

Adding to that, Kieron Pollard’s exceptional prowess as a finisher was missing in IPL 2022. The West Indian had tallied 144 runs at 107.46 in 11 outings before the franchise finally decided to drop him. Last November, Pollard realized he had lost his prime and announced his retirement from the tournament for the betterment of Mumbai.

The other massive concern that Mumbai had last season was the availability of Suryakumar Yadav. The stylish Indian batter could only play eight matches for the side before a left forearm injury ruled him out of the remaining season. But the audacity of SKY was visible in those fixtures, from where he culminated 303 runs at an average of 43.28 with a strike rate of 145.67.

Even in the darkest times, the find of the season for Mumbai was Tilak Verma, who amassed 397 runs at 131.02 last year, and his presence in the middle order often produced stability. With him, Tim David, by smashing 186 runs in eight matches at a blistering 216.27, ensured the Paltans they won’t miss Pollard for a while. Dewald Brevis, projected as South Africa’s next big thing, showed composure but still needs time to make a far-reaching impact in IPL. Safe to say, despite going through transitions, Mumbai are in safe hands with their signings.

Over the years, Mumbai always had a bowling attack that could turn the tide in their favour in any situation. They did not have any recognized spin bowler, and none of Basil Thampi, Jaydev Unadkat, Riley Meredith, and Daniel Sams provided Jasprit Bumrah the required pace support. As a result, they had the third-worst record when it came to breaking the opening wicket stand (36.93 runs) and also conceded the second-most runs (76.36) in the middle overs (7-15). Their average of taking 1.57 wickets during the phase was also the second-worst, only above Punjab Kings (2.21).

Of course, Mumbai missed the injured Jofra Archer in IPL 2022 to complement Bumrah. However, this time, Archer won’t have Bumrah to do the same. Besides, they will miss the services of Jhye Richardson, who has been ruled out of the entire season after straining his hamstring. Therefore, Jason Behendroff, whom Mumbai traded from Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) lately, will be Archer’s only support. But if Behendroff fails, what will they do? Will Duan Jansen be enough as a backup? Certainly not. Mumbai must find a replacement for Richardson to get an additional option.

Mumbai broke the bank to acquire Cam Green at the recent auction in Kochi. Green had two berserk knocks against India last year, both as an opener. It will be interesting to see whether Mumbai decides to Green at the top. The opener Green can take all the pressure from Rohit, allowing him to play with sheer freedom. Besides, Suryakumar and Ishan at Nos. 3 and 4, just like they batted in IPL 2019 and 2020, can bring back the good old days with Tilak and David to follow them. Let’s see what their strategy will be.

With a squad of 24 members, Mumbai have a few surprising names who can work as ‘Impact Player’. Left-arm spinner Shams Mulani and right-arm quick Akash Madhwal, who had excellent Syed Mushtaq Ali campaigns for their respective state, can provide additional bowling options in different conditions. Even Nehal Wadhera, who hit a crafty 214 for Punjab against Madhya Pradesh this January in Ranji Trophy, might get an opportunity to showcase his talents. Remember, Wadhera is yet to play a T20 match, and including him in the lineup can trigger Mumbai’s oppositions to recalculate their strategies.

Still, as the tournament is about to begin, it is hard to imagine Mumbai as one of the title challengers in IPL 2023, particularly with the absence of Bumrah and the in-a-process-to-his-vintage-best Archer. Although the injury of Bumrah is unfortunate, their plan of spending ₹16.25 crores made little sense. Instead, they could have bolstered their bowling attack by roping in well-known pacers and spinners. As the famous cliche reads, ‘batsmen win you games, bowlers win you tournaments,’ expect Mumbai to languish at the bottom of the points table yet again.

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