Mumbai Indians plunged to their second consecutive defeat in the seventh edition of the Indian Premier League on Saturday, losing to the Royal Challengers Bangalore by seven wickets at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.
Not only have Mumbai lost both the games they've played in this season so far, but they have lost by huge margins. The loss to RCB follows their defeat by 41 runs at the hands of the Kolkata Knight Riders on Wednesday.
Both losses have exposed the frailty of the defending champions, which at the moment appears incapable of lifting the trophy for a second time.
Mumbai were one of the three teams to retain their full quota of five players before this season's auction. The players retained were captain Rohit Sharma, Lasith Malinga, Harbhajan Singh, Kieron Pollard and Ambati Rayudu, who basically formed the nucleus of the squad that won their maiden title last year.
However, in the process, Mumbai lost both their quality openers in Sachin Tendulkar (retirement) and Dwayne Smith (bought by Chennai Super Kings), the second-highest run-scorer in the squad last season in Dinesh Karthik (bought by Delhi Daredevils), a prolific strike bowler in Mitchell Johnson (bought by Kings XI Punjab) and a million-dollar all-rounder in Glenn Maxwell (also bought by Punjab).
While Mumbai replaced Johnson with Zaheer Khan and purchased Michael Hussey to fill in one of the openers' spots, the new batting line-up never exuded the same robustness as before, especially the top three positions. Not only is a second reliable opening batsman missing, but the very important No. 3 position is also being filled in by Ambati Rayudu, who usually bats lower down the order.
On paper, Mumbai's batting consists of Hussey, last season's leading run-scorer across all teams, Sharma, Mumbai's leading run-scorer last season, and the destructive Kieron Pollard, who has the ability to single-handedly win games for his team.
However, what seems to be lacking this season is the cohesiveness with which their batsmen operated earlier. If the openers failed, there was always Karthik and Sharma to cover up. If they needed a quick 50-60 runs in the last five overs, Pollard was always willing to step in.
One can judge from the two matches Mumbai have played so far that they are still settling in to their rejigged squad. They appear to be lacking in confidence and also don't seem to have a game plan with respect to their batting.
Mumbai do not bat deep; their batting ends at No. 6 with Corey Anderson. The case wasn't very different last season, but it didn't matter because their top six got the job done more often than not.
The team has a reasonably strong bowling line-up, with the likes of Lasith Malinga, Zaheer, Harbhajan and Pragyan Ojha. But they cannot expect to rely on their bowling to win them games all the time.
What's more, Malinga, their bowling spearhead, is due to leave for the United Kingdom with the Sri Lankan limited-overs team in the first week of May, which means he would be unavailable for at least eight games in the latter stages of the tournament.
The replacements available in the squad for Malinga are West Indian Krishmar Santokie, Australia's Josh Hazlewood and South Africa's Marchant de Lange, who are all inexperienced and clearly not in the same league as the Sri Lankan.
Mumbai have always made the right kind of headlines regarding their squad selection since this tournament began six years ago. They are billed as one of the heavyweights and have appeared in two finals so far. However, this current bunch of players have a long way to go before they can think of retaining their title.
One of the first things their batsmen can do is drop the laissez-faire attitude and take the onus upon themselves. This is an area where team icon Sachin Tendulkar and mentor Anil Kumble could step in, both having been vastly experienced and successful international players.
All is not lost for Mumbai yet. Twelve league games still remain, which are more than enough to spark a turnaround. However, Mumbai would be aiming to end their United Arab Emirates sojourn on a positive note by winning the three games left to be played in the country before flying back to familiar surroundings and conditions in India.
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