IPL 9: Mumbai Indians seek upturn against confident Kolkata Knight Riders

In nine editions of the IPL, Mumbai have won only three of their opening games, with losses in each of the last five seasons


Kolkata are generally strong at home and go into the game after a thumping win over Delhi Daredevils in their first match. Photo: AFP
Kolkata are generally strong at home and go into the game after a thumping win over Delhi Daredevils in their first match. Photo: AFP

“Why have Mumbai always disappointed in their first games,” a journalist asked Harbhajan Singh after Mumbai Indians lost their opening game to Rising Pune Supergiants last week. Harbhajan smiled, and then chuckled, before answering, “I don’t know, I wish I knew the reason.”

Mumbai have been a champion side in the Indian Premier League (IPL), but nobody really knows the reason for their starting problems. In nine editions of the IPL, Mumbai have won only three of their opening games, with losses in each of the last five seasons. They lost their first five matches in IPL 2014 but went on to win the tournament, and followed it up with five losses in the first six matches last year.

It’s with the aim of correcting this anomaly somewhat that Mumbai take on Kolkata Knight Riders on Wednesday (13 April) at Eden Gardens in Kolkata. It won’t be easy, as Kolkata are generally strong at home and go into the game after a thumping win over Delhi Daredevils in their first match.

The loss to Pune is certainly not reason to panic, but Mumbai must address their batting problems. They managed just 121 for 8—a score that could have been a lot less if not for some late heroics by Harbhajan.

On paper, the batting lineup is among the strongest in the competition but a closer look reveals some concerns. Rohit Sharma isn’t in great form, Jos Buttler is new to the arena, and Kieron Pollard is just back from a long injury layoff. Mumbai need them to click before it’s too late.

Mumbai also made an interesting decision by promoting Hardik Pandya to No. 3 in the previous game. The big-hitting allrounder couldn’t cope with the moving ball in Mumbai and it remains to be seen if he keeps that position. If he does, the tail seems longer with Shreyas Gopal coming in at No. 8.

One option for Mumbai to work around this problem is by moving Rohit to the middle order. However, the Mumbai captain has stressed that he would stick to the opening spot, unless forced to change because of the team’s requirements.

Mumbai’s bowlers had nothing to work with the other day and the combination is likely to be the same. In the little evidence in their opening match, Harbhajan looked in fine rhythm and will be expected to lead the attack in spinner-friendly conditions in Kolkata.

Contrary to where Mumbai find themselves, the hosts had a near perfect game against Delhi on Sunday. It was a no-contest, with Delhi being skittled out for a paltry 98 and the chase then completed without any fuss.More than the result, what would please Gautam Gambhir and Co is that it was a combined effort by the bowlers. Andre Russell set it up with three quick wickets before Brad Hogg and Piyush Chawla, the wrist spinners, combined to complete the rout. John Hastings also chipped in with a couple of wickets in a miserly spell. Gambhir and Robin Uthappa, the openers, then made it an easy chase by scoring brisk and attractive 30s.

Cause for even more celebration for Kolkata is that Sunil Narine, who had flown back home after his father’s demise, will join the squad on Tuesday night. Whether Kolkata rush him into the playing XI straightaway or give him time to settle down remains to be seen. However, it’s likely to be Option 2, which means Kolkata could play with the same side that defeated Delhi.

The string of one-sided matches at the start of the IPL has not done the tournament any good. There is already a hint of T20 overkill, as was evident by the sparse crowd for the first match in Kolkata. The tournament is dying for a boost, and the Kolkata vs Mumbai game could just turn out to be the perfect launching point. After all, they are the only two sides in this year’s competition to have won the trophy twice.

Teams (from)

Kolkata: Gautam Gambhir (capt), Manish Pandey, Robin Uthappa, Chris Lynn, Suryakumar Yadav, Colin Munro, Andre Russell, Yusuf Pathan, Shakib Al Hasan, John Hastings, Jason Holder, R Sathish, Manan Sharma, Sheldon Jackson, Kuldeep Yadav, Umesh Yadav, Piyush Chawla, Brad Hogg, Morne Morkel, Sunil Narine, Jaydev Unadkat, Ankit Rajpoot.

Mumbai: Rohit Sharma (capt), Akshay Wakhare, Ambati Rayudu, Harbhajan Singh, Hardik Pandya, J Suchith, Jasprit Bumrah, Nitish Rana, Parthiv Patel, R Vinay Kumar, Shreyas Gopal, Siddhesh Lad, Unmukt Chand, Corey Anderson, Kieron Pollard, Lasith Malinga, Lendl Simmons, Marchant de Lange, Mitchell McClenaghan, Jos Buttler, Tim Southee, Nathu Singh, Jitesh Sharma, KP Kamath, Krunal Pandya, Deepak Punia.

Mint has a content partnership with Wisden India for the IPL 9 season.

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