Having two injury-prone elite all-format pacers was a risk that Mumbai Indians knew, but they were willing to take that punt. Having a decorated trophy cabinet gave Mumbai the freedom to focus on unearthing new talents and grooming them. After their title-winning run in 2020, where their bowling wasn’t too far below the tournament average, it has plummeted to new lows.
History repeated itself again. After managing to scramble through to 171 courtesy a Tilak Varma masterclass, in the opening fixture against the Royal Challengers Bangalore, a dismal bowling performance cost them the game.
Before yesterday’s game, Jofra Archer had played 14 games (eight international games and six franchise games) in the three months post his comeback. And he’ll be expected to play at least another 14 games in the next two months. That’s 28 games in five months. There’s also the Ashes coming up in June and July, and he’s made his intentions clear of playing it. In his international career, the most limited-over games (international + franchise) he’s played in a five-month period is 23 games from Aug ’20 to Dec ’20. It remains to be seen how his workload is managed, or if the ECB intervenes to preserve him for the Ashes.
Amidst all this, Archer was to lead the MI bowling attack in Bumrah’s absence. As things stand, the backroom staff will have lots to think about if they want to go with their usual two-overseas-pacers strategy. Jason Behrendorff hasn’t done much of note in the recent past, and is fairly unidimensional in what he offers. This was on display in yesterday's game as well, where he looked all at sea with no movement to exploit. He conceded at 15.6 RPO when full and 24 RPO when short.
It didn't help that there were some questionable choices made on the field. Jofra Archer is best used with the new ball, but he wasn't given the ball until the fourth over. Both openers looked set by then, and the way they dealt with him also showed how good a surface this was.
Having spent 17.5 Cr on Cameron Green, they had no option but to play him. But accommodating him in this XI was going to be another problem. His best position is at the top, when he gets to maximize the powerplay. With Rohit Sharma and Ishan Kishan already in the XI as openers, they’ll have to take a call on who drops down the order to make way for the other two. Rohit and Ishan have both looked out of sorts in this format for a while now. In the six T20s Ishan has played this year, he's reached double digits just twice, and has not crossed the 20 run mark even once. And the less we speak about Rohit's IPL career, the better.
The openers yesterday ran into a steaming in Siraj, who had a point or two to prove. They just had no answers to the moving ball and hit the air a few too many times. After their painful stay, Green came in at #3 against RCB and got out bowled to Reece Topley for 5 (4). Of course, there's nothing much to read into it, apart from the fact that the untimely wicket just pushed them back further.
Same was the case with Tim David. He got out playing a slog-sweep to Karn Sharma, a matchup he has a good record against. As good as Karn is, Tim would usually pull these sweeps off in his sleep. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be the case at Chinnaswamy.
In between the Aussie duo, there was a 20 year old who left an indelible mark at yesterday’s game. He walked in at #5, with Mumbai reeling at 20/3 in 5.2 overs. Under these circumstances, any normal batter would look to anchor the innings and take their time, before looking to tee off. But, nothing about Tilak is normal. On his second ball, he cleared his front leg and smoked a length ball down the ground for the first six of the game. You couldn’t really blame Akash Deep for doing that either, for MI’s batter had scored only 10 (16) and lost both their openers to it till then.
Soon after, he lost the company of Suryakumar Yadav and the onus to rebuild the innings fell on him. And he couldn’t have done it any better. He kept hitting the fence frequently, and was consistent in rotating the strike. His Non Boundary Strike Rate of 72.7 is a reflection of that. The manner in which he dealt with every bowler was striking. He has no real weakness against particular lengths or spin type, and RCB learnt it the hard way.
What we saw of Arshad Khan was promising. Barring the initial flurry of wides, he moved the ball around nicely, and also has a mean yorker to go with it. Add his cameo and six-hitting abilities to that; that’s a decent base for the coaches to work with. Instead of signing an overseas replacement for Jhye Richardson and bringing him into the XI, Boucher’s men would be better served if they made use of an Indian pacer and bought in one of Brevis or Stubbs to shore up their batting. MI could then use Arshad as an impact player to cover all phases.
It doesn’t help that even the spin attack does not inspire any confidence. Piyush Chawla is the lone experienced spinner, and in his current form, it’s hard to see him make the playing XI consistently. His decent figures in yesterday’s game had more to do with RCB’s batters seeing him off than him bowling really well. And Kumar Karthikeya, Hrithik Shokeen and Raghav Goyal haven’t played enough at the highest level yet.
Bumrah’s absence, openers’ lack of form, no proven spinners, overseas selection troubles, that’s some list. Right now, Mumbai has questions they don’t seem to have answers to. But, if there’s one thing MI has taught us, it is that starts don’t matter.
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