Champions. Fourth. Champions. Fifth. Champions. Fifth. This is the sequence of results Mumbai Indians have had since winning their first Indian Premier League title in 2013. On that evidence alone, the odds seem favourable for them going into the upcoming season.
It wasn’t always a smooth ride for Mumbai Indians, though, The team that’s bagged the IPL title the most number of times, along with the Chennai Super Kings, didn’t have the brightest of starts when the T20 tournament was launched in 2008.
Much like the seasons where they went all the way, Mumbai took their time to find their feet in what would go on to become one of the most popular cricket tournaments in the world. After finishing in the bottom half of the table in the first couple of seasons, they made it to the final in 2010, but only managed to claim the title in 2013 when Rohit Sharma took over the captaincy mid-way.
The Mumbaikar has been phenomenal for the franchise since, leading them from the front as they blossomed into IPL heavyweights. In the process, he, himself, has gone on to become a world-class white-ball batsman.
Past glory, of course, will mean little going forward. After losing the IPL 11 opener off the last ball to eventual champions CSK, Mumbai Indians tasted defeat in five of their next seven games. They went on to win four of the remaining six matches but that wasn’t enough to earn them a playoffs berth.
Mumbai Indians in IPL over the years
The big changes for 2019
The franchise brought in seven new players in this year’s auction, none more significant than the highest wicket-taker in the tournament’s history – Lasith Malinga. The current skipper of Sri Lanka’s ODI and T20I teams was released by Mumbai in the 2018 auction due to lack of form and fitness.
Malinga was then roped in as bowling mentor by Mumbai for the 2018 season, before being bought for Rs 2 crore for 2019. If the 35-year-old right-arm pacer manages to find form this year, one can’t imagine Mumbai Indians not having a good run.
The only problem, and it’s a big one, is that Malinga will be unavailable for Mumbai’s first six matches of IPL 2019. He had to back out at the last minute to be able to participate in Sri Lanka’s Super Provincial One-Day domestic tournament, which runs from April 4 to April 11.
With Sri Lanka’s selectors stating that they won’t consider players if they don’t participate in the domestic tournament, Malinga was left with no choice but to rule himself out of the first three weeks of IPL 2019.
Moving on, two other important signings made this year by Mumbai have been that of Quinton de Kock and Yuvraj Singh.
The explosive South African wicketkeeper-batsman could be the perfect foil for Sharma at the top of the order, with the skipper having confirmed that he will open the batting in every match [more on that later].
Singh, on the other hand, provides some much-needed experience in the middle-order. The 37-year-old, who was Player of the Tournament in India’s 2007 and ‘11 World Cup triumphs, has failed to live up to his potential in the IPL over the years. But getting the southpaw for a relatively cheap price of Rs 1 crore could yet prove to be a smart move by Mumbai.
Another key addition made this year by Mumbai Indians is that of former Indian fast-bowler Zaheer Khan. The 40-year-old has been brought on as Director of Cricket Operations. Khan, who played for Mumbai in 2009, ‘10 and ‘15, was known for his ability to out-think batsmen when he was at the top of his game, and definitely brings a wealth of experience to the table.
The one major setback for Mumbai Indians at this year’s auction came in the form of Pat Cummins.
The Australian, who didn’t register himself for the IPL auctions this year with an eye on the World Cup, has been in top form in international cricket over the past six months. His ability with both bat and ball will surely be missed.
Indian players under World Cup radar
With the ICC World Cup in England starting just 11 days after the IPL this year, a lot of the focus, as far as Mumbai Indians are concerned, will be on Hardik Pandya [and brother Krunal to an extent], Rohit Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah.
The brothers have been a vital cog in Sharma’s team over the past few seasons, and the stakes are at an all-time high for them this year. Hardik has been in and out of the Indian team for a while now, for various reasons. A recurring back injury along with an unfortunate chat show appearance have somewhat derailed the talented all-rounder’s career.
During a press conference on Tuesday, Khan said that the 25-year-old’s injury is quite serious and needs to be monitored closely. Hardik is still a key component of India’s squad as Virat Kohli mentioned at the end of the Australia series but his chances of making it to India’s World Cup squad take a substantial blow if injuries come back to haunt him during the IPL. Vijay Shankar’s emergence as a seam-bowling all-rounder means there is additional pressure on the Baroda all-rounder. It will be interesting to see how the franchise manages his workload this season.
Krunal, too, will be eyeing a solid IPL. Indian captain Virat Kohli and chairman of selectors MSK Prasad could undermine the tournament all they want, but there’s little doubt that the country’s fringe players will be closely watched till the World Cup squad is picked on April 20. For instance, If Krunal has an outstanding run and Ravindra Jadeja has a poor one, will the selectors completely ignore current form? The 27-year-old left-arm spinner must surely be aware of this possibility and this, of course, augurs well for Mumbai Indians.
Then to the skipper himself. Sharma has said before the season that there will be no moving him around the batting order this time around — a decision which has vexed fans and pundits in the past. In 2018, Sharma started as an opener and then moved himself down once again but, with the World Cup around the corner, he has said he will be opening all the matches, a move that should benefit franchise and the national team in equal measure.
As far as workload is concerned, the biggest concern would be Bumrah. If other bowlers in the team step up to the plate, the in-game load for the 25-year-old should come down while a good start to the season [unlike the typical MI start] will help the franchise rest their spearhead in the latter half, because make no mistake: the Indian management will be most worried about their lead pacer’s workload.
In Sharma and Bumrah, Mumbai have two of the best white-ball cricketers in the world at their disposal. Throw in the likes of Evin Lewis, Ishan Kishan, Kieron Pollard, De Kock, Singh and the Pandya brothers, and you have one formidable team.
As has been the case for the past few seasons, Mumbai Indians go in as one of the favourites this time around as well. With Sharma leading from front, in more ways than one, the key for Mumbai Indians will be to hit the ground running.
Mumbai Indians’ complete squad for IPL 2019
Rohit Sharma [C], Hardik Pandya, Jasprit Bumrah, Krunal Pandya, Ishan Kishan, Suryakumar Yadav, Mayank Markande, Rahul Chahar, Anukul Roy, Siddhesh Lad, Aditya Tare, Quinton de Kock, Evin Lewis, Kieron Pollard, Ben Cutting, Mitchell McClenaghan, Adam Milne, Jason Behrendorff, Quinton de Kock, Lasith Malinga, Yuvraj Singh, Barinder Sran, Anmolpreet Singh, Pankaj Jaiswal, Rasikh Salam.