There is a joke doing the rounds on social media that the Mumbai Indians should hand their celebrity coaching staff the bat and ball in a bid to rescue their season.
With high-profile names such as Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Anil Kumble, Jonty Rhodes, Robin Singh and John Wright present in the dug-out, the joke goes that this "team" couldn't do any worse than the one being led by Rohit Sharma on the field in the seventh edition of the Indian Premier League.
What a tale of two seasons it has been for the Mumbai Indians.
Almost exactly a year ago, they were in dire straits in a match against the Sunrisers Hyderabad at the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai, chasing a daunting target of 179.
Mumbai had crawled along to 114 for three in 15 overs, needing 65 runs to win from the last four overs. It was the first time in the season that they were chasing at home, after having won all their matches batting first. The big, burly all-rounder, Kieron Pollard, was at the crease, along with skipper Sharma.
It was here that a button flicked on inside Pollard's 1.96-metre (6'4") frame. The Trinidadian clobbered half a dozen sixes in seven deliveries—including five consecutive maximums—to snatch the game out of Hyderabad’s clutches.
The unbelievable victory, as reported by ESPNcricinfo, pushed Mumbai to the top of the points table. Doing so, they also kept their unbeaten record at home intact.
Cut to the corresponding fixture this season on Wednesday at the Dubai International Stadium—the last match in the United Arab Emirates before the teams return to India.
Mumbai were chasing 173 against the Sunrisers Hyderabad and had crawled along to 115 for four in 16 overs, needing 58 off the last four overs. Once again, Pollard was at the crease and was evidently Mumbai's only hope of crossing the line, his partner at the other end being Ambati Rayudu.
Once more, it was at this stage of the innings that the Trinidadian decided to go for broke and clobbered leg-spinner Amit Mishra for 27 runs in the 17th over, bringing the equation down to 31 required off 18.
Unfortunately this time for Mumbai, they were to lose a couple of wickets in the following two overs and leave too much for Pollard to achieve in the final six balls.
Like the previous season, the result of the game—a 15-run loss this time—ensured that Mumbai maintained their streak. Unfortunately for the defending champions, it wasn't one to be proud of. Mumbai have now lost five out of five games played this season, and their hopes of defending their title hang by a thread.
Analysis into where it all went wrong for Mumbai would be available for a dime a dozen, but the more important question is: Where do they go from here? Is there a fix available, for whatever it is worth? Is there the faintest of chances for them to reach the Eliminator match, which is a battle between the third and fourth-placed teams in the league, with a chance to progress further?
Considering the trend of teams needing about eight wins to qualify for the knockouts, Mumbai have little margin for error left, with just nine more games left to play in the season.
Five out of those nine matches are scheduled for their home fortress of Wankhede, where they went unbeaten last season. This includes their next three games—against Kings XI Punjab, Royal Challengers Bangalore and Chennai Super Kings.
If Mumbai can take courage from Wednesday's performance, pick themselves up and win the next three games, then cricket is a funny game—anything is possible. If, of course, they lose any of those three games, it would then be safe to say that their season is over.
Even since the player auctions for the current season were done with in February, Mumbai have been criticised for their lack of vision in buying and retaining the right players.
However, it makes no sense debating over that right now since it's a thing of the past and can't be changed. Mumbai have no choice but to work with the resources they have and somehow get themselves working as a unit.
One of Mumbai's major flaws so far this season has been that they don't seem to have played with a plan, especially the batting. They have been guilty of operating with a laissez-faire attitude: If the openers fail, there's always Sharma to follow.
If he fails as well, there's always Pollard to cover up. If Pollard also fails, trust Lasith Malinga's yorkers to do the trick.
Starting with Sharma (84 runs in five matches), whose form has been a shadow of last season's, when he was the team's leading run-scorer. Each individual needs to shoulder some of the responsibility and work toward the team's target.
In terms of team selection, the think-tank finally decided to ring in the changes at the top of the order, as the underperforming Michael Hussey was dropped for the Hyderabad game, making way for fellow Australian Ben Dunk, while Sharma moved up the order to occupy the other opener's slot.
This was a wise move, since in this shortest format of the game, you need your best batsmen to face the most number of deliveries. However, for that, Sharma will have to start scoring some runs.
All-rounder Corey Anderson (73 runs and three wickets in five matches) is treading on thin ice and ideally should be dropped, but the problem for Mumbai is that they don't have a worthy replacement on the bench.
They could consider giving latest recruit Lendl Simmons, who is an opening batsman, a game, and promote Pollard to No. 4, after Sharma at one-down. Pawan Suyal or Jasprit Bumrah could then come in for the ineffective Pragyan Ojha (one wicket in five games).
So, this is the 11 they could try, with nothing to lose:
Ben Dunk, Lendl Simmons, Rohit Sharma (c), Kieron Pollard, Ambati Rayudu, CM Gautam (wk), Aditya Tare, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Lasith Malinga, Pawan Suyal/Jasprit Bumrah.
The frustration was evident within the Mumbai camp during the chase on Wednesday when Pollard almost kicked the ball in anger after missing out on a shot, and Rayudu flung his bat to the ground after being denied a run. The eventual fifth loss in a row would have further rubbed salt into the wounds.
Mumbai may not have bench strength in terms of players, but they have enough glitterati within their support staff of coaches, mentors and advisers.
At the end of Wednesday's game, Tendulkar and Co. were seen patting the backs of the players, trying to keep their spirits up. While the team lost the match, it was a much-improved performance compared to their previous four games, and this is what they will have to build on.
Pollard has paved the way for Mumbai launching a rather delayed but necessary comeback into the league. They have a mountain to climb in the table, but even if they do fail to make the top four, a sustained effort in the nine remaining games would do their confidence a load of good.
In the 2010 season, Chennai Super Kings had lost five of their first seven matches, including a run of four consecutive losses. However, the team won five of their next seven games and got through to the top four. They went on to win their maiden title that season.
There is no reason why Mumbai cannot spark a similar revival.
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