In IPL, money isn’t everything. But, in IPL money isn’t ‘nothing’ either. That’s what the Mumbai Indians have proven to the world. Probably the most popular side in IPL after CSK, MI started out badly but under Rohit Sharma have settled down nicely with two trophies in their cabinet.
In fact, it was under Harbhajan Singh’s captaincy, that they managed to win the Champions League T20. However, under Rohit, they got their hands over the prized silverware beating none other than CSK, IPL’s powerhouse until they were suspended.
MI, who are as settled as a team in IPL can get, are pitted against IPL infants – Rising Pune Supergiants (don’t let the name deceive you) in their opener. They are far from being giants. Last season, they were in serious competition for the wooden spoon, finishing 7th eventually. This season, they have taken a massive gamble – replacing ‘Captain Cool’ MS Dhoni with Australia’s Steven Smith at the helm. The clash of MI and Pune Super Giant is sure to be an interesting one.
#1 With the bat
Mumbai Indians will rely on one of Ambati Rayudu and Rohit Sharma to score a big at the top and then hope one of Jos Buttler and Kieron Pollard fires lower down the order. Parthiv Patel and Lendl Simmons will be good buffers, but Simmons getting a game will be at the expense of one of the bowlers, where MI have Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell McClenaghan, and Tim Southee (with Lasith Malinga yet to join). It is hard to see how this team could fail unless Rayudu and Rohit fail consistently, which is hard to imagine.
Pune’s batting didn’t quite come through last year and this season, it is under pressure because of their bowling that looks to be on the weaker side. They’ll hope one of Steven Smith and Ajinkya Rahane gives them a start at the top before the likes of Dhoni and Ben Stokes can go berserk in the second half.
Dhoni is expected play more freely given he isn’t the skipper anymore. Stokes, on the other hand, is fiery and hates to lose. But the biggest plus for Pune is the calm head of Faf du Plessis, South Africa’s rock in many a battle. Technically, this contest will come down to Rohit/Rayudu/Buttler versus Stokes/Rahane/Smith. On paper, Super Giants are in good shape with the batting with Australia’s Usman Khawaja in the reserves.
#2 With the ball
The Pune Supergiants have to figure out a way to deal with MI’s bowling firepower which could prove to be a big difference.
Pune’s bowling is ordinary with Ashok Dinda, Ankit Sharma, Adam Zampa and Jaydev Unadkat hardly intimidating at their best. Stokes, in fact, is the only bowler in there capable of shock-value. Zampa could come in handy with his spin, but he has nothing that MI has not faced before.
MI’s bowling against Pune’s is a David v Goliath case. Their bowling riches include Mitchell Johnson, who was superb in the Big Bash, and Mitchell McClenaghan who was sensational for MI in the past. Throw in Krunal Pandya’s spin, Harbhajan’s experience and Jasprit Bumrah’s death bowling and Rohit Sharma has way too many options up his sleeve. The only question is – will Dhoni-Smith-Stokes combine to take on the MI bowling?
It will be a battle of masterminds when the Super Giants clash against MI. Pune will be coached by Stephen Fleming, who had achieved wonders with CSK. MI, on the other hand, have a new coach – Mahela Jayawardene to replace Ricky Ponting. Jayawardene is probably a hands-on coach given he was playing as recently as in the Pakistan Super League and in the Big Bash.
The Sri Lankan legend has always been an astute captain, known for his attacking intent and finally, he will have a team of riches that can do his battle strategies genuine justice. Given how Jayawardene is also known for his coolness, MI will love to have him by their side, given the pressure they are always under. As one of the top two teams in terms of brand value, MI have no choice but to make it to the top four.
MI’s winning strategy would be to find a way to stop Smith from scoring. That’s not going to be an easy task as the Indians found out against Australia. Nevertheless, Rohit Sharma is not as reactive a captain as Virat Kohli is and with Mahela will surely have some aces up his sleeve. Minus Steve Smith, MI should back themselves to score whatever Pune can and a little more.
It was shocking when Imran Tahir, the world’s best short format bowler as per ICC rankings didn’t find any takers. Sanity has prevailed eventually and the South African leg-spinner would play for Pune, replacing the injured Mitchell Marsh.
However, Pune will not probably have the services of Tahir available for their season opener. Adam Zampa is the only other spinner Pune have currently, although he has impressed in the past. Ben Stokes, Pune’s big ticket player needs to fire to justify his astronomical price-tag. Many a star player before him has succumbed to that pressure.
MI’s X-factor has to be their lower order firepower – Jos Buttler and Sri Lanka’s Asela Gunaratne, who showed nerves of steel to win Sri Lanka some back-from-the-dead matches against South Africa. Whether the latter would get a chance to play remains to be seen. If Buttler goes berserk, MI will have no trouble notching up big scores batting first and when they are chasing, teams will always be wary of what’s going to come down the order after Kieron Pollard.
#5 Potential pitfalls
Ravichandran Ashwin is out of this IPL probably and that is a big setback for Pune. Although they have Imran Tahir, Super Giants have to be careful with their bowling which is their Achilles’ Heel. Jayadev Unadkat and Ishwar Pandey are steady at their best while Ashok Dinda is unpredictable. They lack genuine firepower and would probably rely heavily on Stokes and Zampa to pull things back. And that is a big risk.
Mumbai Indians don’t have a weakness on paper. Their batting is brilliant and so is their bowling. However, their domestic batting stalwarts – Ambati Rayudu and Rohit Sharma are both back from injuries. Rayudu showed some form in the Deodhar Trophy but MI will need one of these two to hold the top order so that Jos Buttler can be unleashed in the last few overs. Pollard’s recent form for West Indies against Pakistan is a huge concern too.