IPL 2014: Mumbai Indians Break Losing Streak, but Bowling Remains a Concern

Jaideep VaidyaAnalyst IMay 3, 2014

Mumbai Indians’ Kieron Pollard, center right, Sachin Tendulkar, center left, and Harbhajan Singh, second right, celebrate the dismissal of Kolkata Knight Riders’ Gautam Gambhir during an Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket match in Mumbai, India, Wednesday, May 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)
Rajanish Kakade/Associated Press

Perhaps it was the familiar confines of the breezy bowl that is the Wankhede Stadium, with the scent of the nearby Arabian Sea and the frequent clunks emanating from the railway tracks running just outside the circumference, which created a congenial environment.

Perhaps it was the deafening cheers and excited chatter of around 18,000 underprivileged children who had been brought to watch the match by the team owners, per NDTVfilling up more than half the stadium and vociferously backing the home side.

Lasith Malinga (left) and Harbhajan Singh: Are Mumbai relying too much on them?
Lasith Malinga (left) and Harbhajan Singh: Are Mumbai relying too much on them?Themba Hadebe/Associated Press

Whatever it was, the Mumbai Indians sure were glad to be back home, where they hadn't lost all of last season—a statistic that played a vital role in them eventually lifting their maiden Indian Premier League title.

After a rather horrendous first leg of the seventh season of the tournament in the United Arab Emirates, where the Mumbai Indians lost all five matches played, the odds were heavily stacked against them on Saturday when they took on the table-toppers, Kings XI Punjab, who were unbeaten in five matches.

As it turned out, it was all a case of being poor travelers.

The Mumbai Indians notched their first win of the season on Saturday and opened their account in the table. A spot in the knockouts is still a long way off for the defending champions, but the five-wicket win over the best team so far this season is a start, at least.

Mumbai's performance was by no means vintage. Chasing an imposing 169, they got over the line with five balls to spare and with as many wickets in hand, which looks a comfortable margin statistically, but was one that flattered them.

The positive for Mumbai over the last two games has been their batting, which after four woeful outings finally showed glimpses of their form last season. In their last match in the UAE, against Sunrisers Hyderabad, Mumbai looked competent in a chase of 173, but faltered at the last hurdle. Kieron Pollard, who had struggled to find runs in the first four matches, scored a whirlwind 78 off 48 balls to take them 15 runs from the target.

On Saturday, back home against Punjab, they were again up against a high target. This time, it wasn't just Pollard (28 not out from 12 balls), but CM Gautam (33 off 29 balls), captain Rohit Sharma (39 off 34 balls) and Corey Anderson (35 off 25 balls) who also decided to turn up. A team effort, which was lacking earlier, got Mumbai over the line.

That being said, Mumbai have shuffled their batting line-up a little too often this season. Not since their second match of the season, against the Royal Challengers Bangalore, have they maintained the same formation.

Kieron Pollard has been Mumbai's leading run-scorer so far.
Kieron Pollard has been Mumbai's leading run-scorer so far.Rajanish Kakade/Associated Press

Now, after finally having won a game, Mumbai would look to maintain this winning combination, albeit batting Pollard, their leading run-scorer this season, as low as No. 6 is a bizarre tactic.

While all the media focus and scrutiny as been on the team's batting, which now seems to be slowly, but rather belatedly, warming up to the season, the bowling has also been a concern, especially when asked to chase. On all three occasions this season that Mumbai have bowled first, they have conceded in excess of 160 runs.

Mumbai Indians batting line-ups
Opp.No. 1No. 2No. 3No. 4No.5No. 6No. 7

The problem with Mumbai's bowling is that they rely heavily on their best three bowlers: Lasith Malinga, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh. The support cast have been quite mediocre, with Anderson, Pollard and Pragyan Ojha all having economy rates in excess of eight runs an over and only five wickets to show between them.

Mumbai's bowlers have struggled to maintain a decent line and length, have conceded many extras (39 in the games they have bowled first) and delivered more juicy full tosses than you would expect from defending champions. Mumbai's batting would sure hope they are not set targets of 160 and above on all occasions, especially considering they need to win almost all their games left to reach the top four.

Mumbai play their next couple of matches at home as well. If they can continue to guard their fortress and get into the mid-table scrum, it would provide them with much-needed winning momentum and set up the latter stages of the league well for the team. What Mumbai would be targeting is an all-round performance, something they haven't managed in a long time.