Ben Jones takes a look at how the defending champions are shaping up in their defence this season.
Coach: Mahela Jayawardene
Captain: Rohit Sharma
Last season: 1st
Squad Changes: Lasith Malinga, Sherfane Rutherford, Mitchell McClenaghan, Prince Balwant Rai, Digvijay Deshmukh, James Pattinson, Adam Milne, Piyush Chawla, Jimmy Neesham, Yudhvir Charak, Marco Jansen, Arjun Tendulkar
Venues: Chennai 5, Delhi 4, Bangalore 3, Kolkata 2
The core of Mumbai’s dominance is that incredible middle order. Hardik Pandya and Krunal Pandya, matched by Kieron Pollard, allows them to bat down to No.7 while also maintaining plenty of high quality bowling options. From there, it is very difficult to pick an unbalanced, or unthreatening XI players. It’s a spine which rivals the best we’ve seen in the format, ever.
From the outside, Mumbai’s flexibility is a huge asset to them. Rohit’s apparently gentle, nuanced approach to captaincy allows for a certain degree of pragmatism, shown both in his own willingness to move up and down the order, and in Mumbai’s own willingness to tweak their line-ups according to opposition strengths. Ishan Kishan can bat anywhere in the top four, as can Quinton de Kock, as can Rohit himself; Pollard, Hardik and Krunal offer a wide enough variety of hitting skills that even with early wickets falling, tweaks can be made to try and find a route out of trouble.
It’s long been Mumbai’s approach to value similarity over quality when it comes to replacements, and it’s worked well for them, but this year it does leave them a bit light. Adam Milne is brilliant but lacks fitness consistency, Marco Jansen is a relative unknown in this format, and Dhawal Kulkarni has been poor for a number of years. On the batting front, Chris Lynn has issues with spin so five games at Chepauk is an issue for his selection, and while Jimmy Neesham is a helpful replacement for Pollard should the Trinidadian go down, he was released by a much worse side for not being good enough.
The top order is vulnerable against high quality spin. Both Rohit and de Kock have struggled in recent years against spin early on, and were teams able to target that opening pair with Powerplay spinners, there’s potential to make early inroads. It would also – in theory – leave your quicker bowlers free to skew towards the death, and go at Pollard and Hardik with the only strategy which can consistently stop their dominance: high pace, hard lengths. Depending on Jofra Archer’s return from injury, Rajasthan Royals may be very well placed to target this, as should Royal Challengers Bangalore, Delhi Capitals, and perhaps Kolkata Knight Riders.
From an opposition batting perspective, the obvious opportunity is left-handers through the middle being given a run at Krunal and Chahar. Both bowlers are substantially weaker against left-handed batsman, and while Mumbai have been willing to throw Jayant Yadav (the off spinner) in against left-hander heavy sides, he is by no means an elite operator. Punjab Kings, Kolkata Knight Riders, and Delhi Capitals, all match-up well in this regard.
While Mumbai’s XI is arguably the most settled of any side in the tournament, the identity of the third seamer is still unknown. Whether Rohit and Jayawardene opt to stick with their tried and tested pace-heavy strategy is still to be confirmed, but you would expect them to do so – as such, there is room for another quick behind Boult and Bumrah. Most anticipate Adam Milne’s raw pace being the likely choice, operating through the middle overs allowing Rohit to use Boult and Bumrah as classic top-and-tail bowlers, but Nathan Coulter-Nile’s cutters may be more effective on the Chepauk surfaces, as well as offering batting depth.
It’s very difficult to predict anything other than another title for Mumbai right now. While they could have improved their squad in the auction, their success has rarely been built on making huge changes to the established formula. Barring significant injuries to key players, you can’t see Mumbai falling too far any time soon – expect Sunrisers to push them close, but Rohit’s men are well placed to bring home a third consecutive title.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.