Mumbai Indians were indifferent in the first five years of the IPL. They almost crossed the line in 2010 when their icon player, Sachin Tendulkar, had a dream season. But, other than that they did not look like a team capable of threatening CSK’s legacy.
Things changed after Rohit Sharma took over the reins in 2013. Mumbai Indians won the IPL for the first time and have now won the trophy in every alternate year. The credit for their success also goes to their scouting teams. Identifying the players early, the scouts for MI have also contributed to the success of Indian cricket. In their current team, MI has three Indian players that are not just the first names in the MI team list but India’s white-ball team as well. No other team enjoys such luxury.
With a strong team, a proactive captain and some luck they hold the record of most IPL titles. The last two won by the barest of margins. MI’s achievements does not surprise anyone. A batsman of the calibre of Rohit Sharma at the top of the order. World-class all-rounders in Pandya brothers and Kieron Pollard in the middle-order. Skilled pacers like Jasprit Bumrah and Lasith Malinga, who are an envy of every team. With such players in the squad, it is a wonder to find them caught in the odd-even tangle, where they fail to even make it to the top-4 in even years.
While planning for powerplay (overs 1-6) and the death overs (16-20) is simpler, the balance between attack and preserving wickets in the middle-overs is still not well-understood in T20 cricket. As a result, chasing has become the preferable option as the teams can approach these overs based on the target.
It is this phase of a T20 innings where MI has done well with both bat and ball since 2018.
Bowling in Middle-Overs
Since 2018, the economy-rate of MI bowlers in overs 7-15 has been 7.58, the best after CSK’s 7.31. This is a factor of not allowing enough boundaries to the opposition in this period. Their record of 7.4 balls per boundary is also the best after CSK’s 8.2.
Considering that MI plays most of their matches at Wankhede, which is one of the batting friendlier venues in the country, their achievement is even more significant.
Their performance with the ball in this phase is because of the contribution from multiple players. Rahul Chahar, Mitchell McClenaghan and Krunal Pandya have an economy of under seven in this phase since 2018. Bowling a decent 28 overs in this phase, Jasprit Bumrah ensured an economy of an exceptional 5.68.
Such is the importance of doing well in this phase for MI that the difference of 1.4 runs per over in overs 7-15 between games won and lost is the most for any team.
Batting in Middle-Overs
With the bat as well, MI have done well in the middle-overs. Since 2018, their run-rate of 7.97 in overs 7-15 is the third-best behind KKR (8.31) and KXIP (8.23), the two teams that rely heavily on their batting.
A key contributor to this a high boundary ball percentage of 15.37%, next only to KKR’s (16.49%).
Yet again, this is a result of a collective effort. Hardik Pandya and Ishan Kishan have a strike-rate in high 140s in this phase while Pollard’s is a decent 137.67.
With a barrage of big hitters in the team, one can perceive MI’s strength to be their batting. However, contrary to this notion, their efforts with the ball are the real differentiator. Their overall economy of 8.25 is the third-best since 2018.
Areas of Improvement
MI is a team with the least obvious weaknesses. Since 2018, they have competed in most phases of a match, with both bat and ball. However, if anything that they can improve upon is their performance with the bat.
Overall, their run-rate of 8.54 since 2018 is better than only three other teams. Moreover, their rank is the same in both the disappointing 2018 season and the title-winning 2019 season.
Batting in Powerplay
The phase that sets them back with the bat is the first six-overs. Since 2018, their run-rate of 8.19 in the powerplay is the lowest after CSK’s 7.26.
The reason behind this can be two-fold: playing style and strategy. Once in rhythm, no batsman in the world matches the effortless hitting ability of Rohit. However, he tends to be a slow starter as his strike-rate of 121.9 in the first six overs since 2018 suggests. Thus, to utilize the first six overs well, MI should have an aggressive opener partnering him at the top.
His partner in 2019, Quinton de Kock, is a fluent batsman. However, he too batted at a strike-rate of 135.2 in the powerplay. This is lower than his overall T20 strike-rate of 154.3 in overs 1-6 in 2019. This brings us to the point of strategy. Given a plethora of hard-hitting all-rounders in the middle and lower order, a cautious start with the bat is probably by design. Whatever the case, their approach in the first six overs can do with some improvement.
Batting in Death Overs
While MI’s batting in the death overs is not as unsettling as in the powerplay, it is not exceptional either. Their run-rate of 10.11 in the last five overs is better than only three other teams.
To improve upon this, MI need to focus on playing fewer dot balls. Their dot ball percentage of 34.6% in overs 16-20 since 2018 is the highest among all teams.
This is a result of the approach of two lower-order batsmen since 2018. Ben Cutting and Pollard have the highest dot ball percentage among players with more than 100 runs in this phase in the last two seasons. MI parted ways with Cutting ahead of this season. As for Pollard, his batting style is consistent with most Caribbean batsmen. At the death, both Pandya brothers have a lower dot ball percentage and better balls per boundary record than Pollard.
Prospects for 2020
MI continue to be the most settled squad with a large bunch of player with an experience of playing together. Moreover, it is a unit that knows how to win, an attribute useful in high-pressure matches.
However, looking at their squad they would have preferred the tournament to not move to the UAE. One season old Rahul Chahar is their spin bowling spearhead. With just 40.1% attacking shots played on his deliveries, he is the least attacked spinner in IPL since 2018. His performance earned him the India cap as well last year. Now he has to shoulder MI in conditions where his performance will matter a lot more.
They lost a key player in Lasith Malinga who opted out ahead of this season. With the biggest support staff among all teams, it is tough to digest their choice of replacement. In conditions when another spinner would have been more suited, they opted for the injury-prone pacer James Pattinson. This while they had Trent Boult and Nathan Coulter-Nile as recent additions is even more surprising.
Like CSK, MI too had only a few slots to fill in the auction for this season. Their high profile buy, Chris Lynn would have been ideal at the top of the order on Indian pitches. But now when the tournament is in UAE, his struggles against spin makes him a reserve opener at best.
On the batting front, Suryakumar Yadav has been their highest run-scorer in the last two seasons. Amid Rohit’s struggles, he has been the anchor for MI. Another good season can earn him the much-deserved place in the Indian T20 side.
In Anukul Roy, Prince Balwant Rai and Jayant Yadav, MI have spin options that cover all the three varieties. While this will be the first season for Rai and Roy, Yadav have been horses of courses in the last two seasons.
Pandya brothers are yet again the key for MI. Coming back from an injury, Hardik has not played an international match for almost a year now. His form and workload will be a factor in MI’s strategy. On the tracks in UAE, Krunal will have to leap from being an option to a bankable bowler in every match.
Though they are a strong unit going into yet another season, their spin options are not as threatening as those of some other teams. This can hurt MI at the end of the tournament.