Rohit's slump, Bumrah's missing magic spell MI's doom

This wasn’t the first time Mumbai Indians had left it all until the last moment; ‘May resurgence’ is a phenomenon associated with the Rohit Sharma-led side for many seasons now. But a handful of final-over losses ultimately proved to the be the difference between where they aspired to finish in the league table and where they actually did. They had to pay the price for their inability to close as many as four games in the first half of the season, so much so that even five wins in last eight games couldn’t assure them of a playoffs spot. This means CSK still remains the only side to have defended their title so far.

What worked for them?

Suryakumar Yadav, the opener

If there was any semblance of consistency in MI’s campaign, it was Suryakumar’s batting. This season was a homecoming of sorts for the Mumbai lad, who had spent previous four seasons with KKR. MI trusted him with opening duties in the home game against Delhi Daredevils and never had to look back. The opener emerged as Mumbai’s top-scorer, and only consistent batsman, of the season with 512 runs in 14 outings at an average of 36.57.

What pulled them back?

Fragile middle-order

Amongst the many middle-order collapses MI suffered this season the one that sticks out, and probably hurt them the most, is a botched chase of 119 at home. After their four-pronged pace attack had managed to keep the SRH top and middle-order in check, it would have presumably been a cakewalk. Instead, they gift wrapped their wickets, and the two points from the game, to fold for 87 in reply. It was the last of the five losses in their first half of the campaign but it highlighted how brittle MI’s batting looked with no contributions coming from the likes of Rohit, Ishan Kishan, Kieron Pollard and Krunal Pandya on a regular basis. Unfortunately, that script didn’t change much throughout and it became increasingly difficult to salvage the season with only one-man shows sporadically winning games for MI.

What did they sorely miss?

Rohit’s runs, Bumrah’s magic

They were two of Mumbai’s three retainees ahead of the mega-auction, and their poor numbers reflected in Mumbai’s performances too. This was officially skipper Rohit’s poorest season in the 11-year history of IPL in terms of batting returns. His tally of 286 runs might have been the third-best for his side, but was the first time ever that he had endured a sub-300 season.

With Jasprit Bumrah in their ranks, MI would have hardly imagined death bowling would become a sore point of their season. And his 17-wicket season tally could be slightly misleading for the Indian pacer only peaked in the later stages of the competition. He did deliver in a virtual-knockout at home against KXIP, offering glimpses of the death bowling skills that have made him Rohit and Indian team’s go-to man. However, his indifferent show in the earlier stages cost MI few close games that could have made a difference.

Find of the season

Mayank Markande

Keeping up with their tradition of springing a surprise in one relatively unknown, uncapped name, MI unleashed Mayank Markande this time around. It is seldom as easy for a relatively unknown entity to come and deliver at a stage like IPL from the first game itself and that’s where Markande earned brownie points from all. The legspinner from Punjab was handed a debut in their season opener against the returning CSK side, and he repaid the faith showed in him with a three-wicket haul. Amongst his victims were Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Ambati Rayudu. Markande had seven wickets after just the first two games and suddenly the spin department of MI didn’t look as weakened. Even though his form spiralled in the second half, the leggie finished his debut season with 15 wickets.

What’s on the highlights reel?

Ishan Kishan’s 21-ball assault on KKR at the Eden Gardens that threatened to derail the hosts’ campaign at the business end of the tournament. Hardik Pandya’s all-round show at the Wankhede against the same opposition just prior to their visit to Kolkata was one of the very few games where MI got a perfect finishing act in both departments. His unbeaten 35 helped convert MI’s sub-standard score to a formidable 181 before he dismissed the two in-form batsmen for KKR at that moment, Shubhman Gill and Nitish Rana, to dent the chase at crucial junctures.

Bumrah, admittedly, got his execution wrong many times in the season but when he did return to his usual self, he kept MI alive with a perfect death-bowling show in their last home game. His 4-0-15-3 won him Man of the Match and rendered KL Rahul’s stunning 94 fruitless. Rohit didn’t have an ideal season with the bat, but he did offer a glimpse of his class with a berserk 94 when Royal Challengers Bangalore came visiting. His 52-ball knock contained 10 boundaries and five sixes and set RCB a daunting 214-run challenge that they failed to scale.

Auction & retention strategy [6/10]

It wasn’t a surprise that Mumbai opted to retain and RTM the five who’d established themselves as the nucleus of the team in the previous, title-winning year. Rohit, Hardik and Bumrah were retained and Krunal and Pollard were bought back using the Right to Match card. Hardik and to some extent Bumrah were the only one to do some justice to it. And while MI went about building a formidable first XI around the five, the focus shifted off bench strength, especially on the batting front. That somewhere led to unreasonable chances for repeat offenders, while the likes of JP Duminy were under-utilised.

Mumbai let go of Harbhajan Singh and Karn Sharma at the auctions which gave a sense of a depleted spin department, but Markande held his own and was the success of the year for the franchise, regardless of the fact that his form tapered off towards the end. They had invested heavily in the likes of Evin Lewis, Kishan and Suryakumar, and for the price they’d paid and faith they’d shown, the franchise would have expected more consistency from the former duo.

Ben Cutting too proved a reasonable buy and an effective replacement for off-colour Pollard. But losing Australian pace spearhead Pat Cummins at the start and the indifferent form of left-arm pacer Mustafizur Rahman too hampered MI’s chances. Mitchell McClenaghan, who was roped in as the replacement for Cummins, did pick up 14 wickets but also proved expensive in his spells.

Has 2018 been an improvement on 2017?

No. The defending champions kept themselves in the hunt, and had their fate in their own hands, till the very last game. But a botched chase in Delhi meant the season ended without a knockouts berth and a chance to defend their title.

What next then?

The most obvious question, rather puzzle, for MI is whether to keep or release Pollard. They’ve discovered a more than capable, like for like replacement in Cutting who, unlike Pollard now, also gives them a sixth bowling option. Barring one fifty at the fag end, the burly West Indian hardly made a noteworthy contribution with the bat. With his prowess with the bat on the wane, MI will have to take that into consideration before formulating their plans for 2019.

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