The struggles of the Mumbai Indians in IPL 7 demonstrate the insignificance of quality when strategy is lacking.
The Indians were one of only two franchises along with the Chennai Super Kings who maxed-out on their retentions prior to this year's auction, holding onto the core of their side in Rohit Sharma, Ambati Rayudu, Kieron Pollard, Harbhajan Singh and Lasith Malinga. Yet despite doing so, and despite the stability of personnel such a move engendered, the Indians are floundering. With no wins from three matches, they are festering at the bottom of the table.
Against the Super Kings in Dubai Friday, Mumbai made a change to their batting order by promoting New Zealand all-rounder Corey Anderson to No. 3, and shifting Rayudu to more of a floating insurance role—something this column suggested as early as the first match of the season.
That particular move worked okay for MI, with Anderson (39) and Rohit (50) forming a solid middle to their innings. Unfortunately, however, the opening partnership failed to fire, and more disappointingly still, the platform built by Anderson and Rohit was not capitalised on by Rayudu and Pollard in the final overs.
Admittedly, Rohit and Anderson could have scored faster, and the pressure on Pollard and Rayudu when they came to the crease was palpable, but dealing with such pressure comes with the role of playing late in the innings. Pollard's 11 ball 12 and Rayudu's two ball one saw Mumbai stutter to a below-par 141.
At least Aditya Tare at the top of the innings appears to have been a good strategic move, with him playing another brief, but fluent hand at the top of the order.
Time appears to be running out for Michael Hussey, who failed again, and with Australian Ben Dunk waiting in the wings, Hussey may have played his last match for a while.
Dunk really should come into the side in place of Hussey and join Tare at the top of the order, forming a threatening opening partnership. However, batting Anderson at No. 3 leaves that top three a little vulnerable, and I would suggest Rohit moving up to take that important slot. Doing so adds a little bit more quality to the top three—something all good sides need in Twenty20—as well as ensuring it is more likely Rohit, MI's best player, will face more balls.
Anderson and Rayudu could then bat interchangeably at No. 4 depending on the situation. With Pollard at No. 5 and the forsaken half of Anderson and Rayudu at No. 6.
This strategy is similar to what the Indians adopted against CSK, if perhaps a little more secure.
Ultimately, though, their success really hinges on the form of Pollard, who as that explosive unit at No. 5 or No. 6, really needs to come off if Mumbai are to elevate poor scores into par scores before allowing their strong bowling attack to defend it. Pollard has been out of cricket for some time with an injury, and although he scored a first-class hundred in Caribbean domestic cricket before the IPL he still appears to be rusty.
Perhaps the best thing that could happen is that he finds himself in the middle early enough to build an innings—something he did admittedly have the opportunity to do against Royal Challengers Bangalore.
If he can find some form, then the quality of Rohit, Rayudu, Anderson and Tare should be enough to provide a platform for the West Indian titan to launch from. It is admittedly a lot of pressure to place on one man, but that is the nature of T20 cricket.
This is a long season, but with three defeats from three in an unusually competitive league, spirits and hopes could be broken early. Time is already running out for Pollard and Mumbai.