Hardik Pandya
Mumbai Indians’ captain Hardik Pandya bowls during the Indian Premier League cricket match on May 11, 2024. Pandya’s inconsistent batting and poor bowling mirrored Mumbai’s fortunes and affected his captaincy. Image Credit: AFP

Mumbai Indians finished at the bottom of the heap. Surprised? Not really, given their troubles throughout the Indian Premier League 2024. Even then, the wooden spoon with a paltry eight points from 14 matches wasn’t expected of a team who were crowned champions five times. But then, this isn’t the first time they sunk to the bottom of the points table; Mumbai also ended up last in 2022.

Two appalling displays in three years point to the same problem — an ill-balanced team. That’s the result of awful choices at the auctions. This season, a poorly executed change in captaincy made matters worse.

How can Mumbai bounce back? The mega auction returns next season, and that’s a chance for the team management to right the wrongs of three years ago. With careful picks, Mumbai can rebuild the team into a winning combination.

How can Mumbai rebuild?

Team composition has been the strength of Mumbai, much like the Chennai Supers Kings, the only other team to scale the podium five times. The strategy is simple: a strong core of Indian talents, supplemented by world-class talents in critical roles. Looking back, you find that high-calibre fast bowlers shaped Mumbai’s wins. Lasith Malinga, Mitchell McClenaghan, Trent Boult and Jasprit Bumrah were the architects of their triumphs. Well, this time, Bumrah was back but sorely lacked support. That makes the decision to let go of Boult a blunder.

Boult had a poor season in 2021, and Mumbai replaced him with an injured Jofra Archer. Big mistake. The English fast bowler didn’t recover in time for the season and played sparingly in the next. Jason Behrendorff and Riley Meredith were poor substitutes, although Behrendorff bagged 14 wickets in 12 games last year and could have been an asset this season. An injury laid him low, and Gerald Coetzee, Luke Wood and Nuwan Thushara could not fill the breach adequately. That meant Mumbai were often unable to make inroads during the powerplay.

So, a genuine quickie to strike early blows should top Mumbai’s wishlist. Someone like Kagiso Rabada, who can open the bowling and return to apply the squeeze in the slog overs, would be nice. They have to shop around to find a good fit to support Bumrah.

The missing link in Mumbai batting

Batting was secure in the early games, with openers Rohit Sharma and Ishan Kishan blazing away during the powerplay. Suryakumar Yadav’s return and Tilak Varma’s continued success brought steel and aggression to the middle order despite captain Hardik Pandya’s slim pickings. More consistency would help, so a world-class import in the top four is necessary. Look at how Phil Salt for the Kolkata Knight Riders, Faf du Plessis for Royal Challengers Bengaluru, Travis Head for Sunrisers Hyderabad and Jos Buttler for Rajasthan Royals provided a fillip to their teams.

Mumbai’s late-order batting suffered, and that, in large measure, was due to Tim David’s inconsistency. The Australian plays the finisher role, which is prone to frequent failings, yet it was too little in the face of Mumbai’s frequent batting collapses.

They surely have to look beyond David. I know he has a reputation in the T20 franchises worldwide, but David clearly failed to deliver the big runs in crunch situations. Kieron Pollard’s shoes are indeed too big to fill, and Mumbai’s unstable batting hasn’t helped David. Yet someone in the mould of Liam Livingstone or Marcus Stoinis would be preferable as they can graft, if required, before firing away in the slog overs.

The spin riddle

The spin cupboard was bare, and that’s clear when veteran leggie Piyush Chawla is the best choice. That deprived Mumbai of the ability to control the middle overs, just like Rahul Chahar and Krunal Pandya did a few years ago.

An overhaul of the spin department is required. They need an attacking spinner, a good leggie like Yuzvendra Chahal, Rashid Khan or Adam Zampa, and a left-arm spinner like Mitchell Santner, Krunal Pandya or even Keshav Maharaj. It would help if one of the batsmen bowled a couple of overs of spin.

Now, the big question: Will Mumbai retain Hardik Pandya as captain? I would want to keep him. True, he did a bad job, made some terrible decisions. That, I guess, is a product of the circumstances. With fans targeting their ire at him for having replaced a popular captain like Rohit, Pandya couldn’t get his act together. Despite playing several batting roles, his performances were patchy, and his bowling never really impressed. All that will fall into place when he’s in a better head space.

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So Pandya deserves another shot at captaincy. And the franchise owners wouldn’t want to admit a mistake in dumping Rohit, who’s leading India well in all the formats. His captaincy in the 50-over World Cup came in for rave praise. Yes, it was a grave error to change the captain who delivered five championships, but it would be prudent to continue with Pandya.

Where does that leave Rohit, Mumbai’s leading run-getter this season with 417 runs from 14 matches? It wouldn’t be a surprise if he leaves for another franchise. Given the kind of form he is in, several teams will be in the queue to buy him. Will Mumbai let him go? They might, since they will be in a mood to rebuild.

Will that be a mistake? Not really, if head coach Mark Boucher wants to build the team from scratch. I would like to see a new-look Mumbai Indians with some known faces. Mega auction is the opportunity to do just that.

Mumbai can do without another wooden spoon.