The Indian Premier League teased its fans on Wednesday as it coughed up two games that were poles apart. The first match, between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Kings XI Punjab, saw the latter chasing down 206 like a stroll in the park, with eight balls to spare, after choosing to bat second, in a game that was loaded with 33 fours and as many as 26 sixes.
However, that was followed by what can be only be described as a snorefest. Mumbai Indians, being put in to bat, scratchily ambled along to 141 for five, before Kolkata Knight Riders also chased their target down with 10 balls to spare.
While Hyderabad could be forgiven for giving it their best, Mumbai looked hapless on the field. The loss marked their seventh defeat of the season in 10 matches played and meant they stayed put at their spot second from bottom in the table with just four more games to go.
A mathematical possibility exists of yet making it to the playoffs, but even the most optimistic Mumbai supporter would not believe it to be possible.
Apart from their game against Delhi Daredevils—the only team who have looked more miserable than them—three out of Mumbai's next four matches are against teams in the current top three—two games against Rajasthan Royals and one against the table-toppers, Kings XI Punjab.
Another loss would surely confirm that the defending champions are out of the reckoning for the playoffs.
So, how did Mumbai get here? Where did it go wrong?
Well, for one, they had a horrid auction. They chose to let go of Glenn Maxwell, the current leading run scorer; Dwayne Smith, the second-highest run scorer; Mitchell Johnson, the most consistent and in-form fast bowler in the world in recent times; and Dinesh Karthik, one of their most consistent run scorers and reliable No. 3 batsman last season.
To add salt to their wounds, even squad players such as spinner Yuzvendra Chahal and all-rounder Rishi Dhawan, both of whom played for Mumbai last season, are performing well this year for their respective franchises.
Mumbai were left with a squad relying heavily on heavyweights Lasith Malinga, Kieron Pollard and skipper Rohit Sharma to bail them out. As they soon realised, a stronger unit is more effective than strong individuals.
What's worse, Malinga on Wednesday played his last match for MI, as he will be joining the Sri Lankan team on their tour of the United Kingdom. This leaves Mumbai's bowling attack all the more toothless, with Zaheer Khan already having withdrawn from the season due to an injury.
Malinga finished his IPL 2014 campaign with 16 wickets from 10 games—the third-highest tally overall. The next Mumbai Indians player on the list is Harbhajan Singh with eight scalps.
While Harbhajan has bowled tight spells and restricted the flow of runs, wickets win matches in Twenty20 cricket, and this is an area where Mumbai have been found wanting, apart from Malinga of course.
The available options for Malinga's replacement include Australia's Josh Hazlewood, South Africa's Marchant de Lange and West Indian Krishmar Santokie. While all three are budding fast bowlers and have just about started to produce results, their inexperience in this high-pressure environment could further dent Mumbai's hopes of a strong finish to the season. Not that they're left with any other choice.
Until last season, and especially last season, it was MI's batting that had always been the envy of other teams, with names such as Sachin Tendulkar, Sharma, Dinesh Karthik, Dwayne Smith and Pollard. This season, being left with just two of the above five, Mumbai's batting reputation has taken a serious hit.
The team has crossed the 160-mark, considered the par score in IPL, only once out of the six times they've batted this season. Needless to say, they won that game and lost the rest. While batting second, Mumbai have performed a little better, twice chasing down totals of 155 and above.
All three of their wins this season have come when they scored a minimum of 160 runs.
As this writer had noted in an earlier column, Mumbai don't seem to have a game plan while batting.
Their top order has failed miserably: The highest first-wicket partnership so far in 10 matches is 25. Compare this to the previous seasons when players such as Smith and Tendulkar used to provide blistering starts, after which the middle order picked up.
The biggest criticism of Mumbai's batting this year has been their line-up. Pollard, easily their most explosive and match-winning batsman, has not batted higher than No. 5 even once—not even on occasions when the team was finding it hard to score runs in the middle overs.
Ambati Rayudu and skipper Sharma have begun to find their form a bit too late in the season, Corey Anderson remains a major liability and a waste of a crucial top-four spot (albeit due to lack of choice, which again stems back to the poor auction), and the others in the top seven have just been too inconsistent with their scoring.
A lack of depth in the squad has hurt Mumbai this season, and there's not much they can do now, especially with just five matches to go. A good place to start would be getting their basics right, playing freely and taking individual onus to perform for the team, rather than leaving it for the star players.