Some teams enter every competition as firm favourites in everyone’s minds. Mumbai Indians are one such team when it comes to the Indian Premier League.
Mumbai are the defending champions and only one of the three teams—the other two being Kolkata Knight Riders and Chennai Super Kings, now suspended—to have won the title twice.
Nothing describes the Mumbai Indians team better than their IPL season last year. They seemed down and out after losing five of their first six matches, but like most teams that have any connection with ‘Mumbai’, stunned everyone by winning nine of their next ten matches to lift the title. It included a crushing win over Chennai—the other contender for the ‘most consistent IPL team’ tag—in the final in Kolkata.
Twenty20 is an unpredictable format but a look at the successful sides—at the international and other levels—shows that the key to consistency is to maintain a strong core. Mumbai have done exactly that over the years, retaining their key players despite numerous auctions. And, when the core includes T20 heroes like Rohit Sharma, their captain and second-highest scorer in the competition with 3385 runs, Lasith Malinga, the highest wicket-taker with 143 scalps, Harbhajan Singh, Kieron Pollard and Ambati Rayudu, it’s no surprise that they are a T20 powerhouse.
But Mumbai’s success is not just due to their retention policy. With an active talent-hunt programme, Mumbai have unearthed talented youngsters like Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya and J Suchith. And they have almost always made smart picks in auctions like the purchase of Jos Buttler ahead of the 2016 season.
To top all this, they have a backroom staff with some giants of the game, namely Ricky Ponting (head coach), Sachin Tendulkar (mentor), Shane Bond (bowling coach) and Jonty Rhodes (fielding coach).
One possible concern for Mumbai could be injuries to key players. Malinga and Pollard – massive players for Mumbai – missed the ICC World Twenty20 2016 with injuries and are quite short of match practice. Pollard has not played since November last year but has reportedly recovered completely and joined the side. But Malinga has played only one T20 International this year and it remains to be seen when, or whether, he would be available for this year’s IPL.
Mumbai failed to live up to the tag of favourites in the initial years, but all that changed in 2013 when they won the IPL and the Champions League T20 titles. Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement and the loss of key players at the auction resulted in Mumbai slipping briefly in 2014 but they bounced back last year to win their second IPL title. It’s safe to say that they have now started converting the promise of the initial years into trophies, as their two CLT20 and IPL titles show.
2016 auction action
Mumbai retained 19 players from last year’s squad and were relatively silent in the auction held on February 6 this year. But when they did buy players, they ensured they were some of the top performers in modern-day cricket. They got Buttler for Rs 3.8 crore and made another smart buy in Tim Southee for Rs 2.5 crore. Mumbai raised a few eyebrows by shelling out Rs 3.2 crore for uncapped Indian pacer Nathu Singh but given the franchise’s history of unearthing gems and Nathu’s raw pace, don’t be surprised if he turns out to be a valuable addition.
Jitesh Sharma, KP Kamath, Krunal Pandya and Deepak Punia were the four other players Mumbai purchased in the auction.
Young player to watch
Without a doubt, the player to watch out for this year – for Mumbai and perhaps for the entire tournament – is Buttler. The England wicketkeeper-batsman will play his first season in the IPL and he couldn’t have asked for a better team to start his new adventure.
He is likely to be an automatic fit into the side and will provide them with a massive boost in the middle order. He would have happy memories of the Wankhede Stadium as well, where England chased down a record 230-run target against South Africa in the World T20 last month. The flat pitch and small boundaries should also aid his style of batting, and the loyal fans of Mumbai could be in for a treat if Buttler gets going.
Squad: 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.
Karthik Lakshmanan is Senior Staff Writer at Wisden India . Mint has a content partnership with Wisden India for the Indian Premier League season.