Dubai: The invincibility of Mumbai Indians had been the talking point for the last few days as they get a five-day break before the final on Tuesday. However, if there is any soft spot in the side for the four-time champions, ironically, it concerns both the form and fitness of skipper Rohit Sharma.
Ever since ‘Hitman’ returned to the squad after sitting out for four games with a ‘hamstring injury’ which has become the talking point of Indian cricket for over a week, he has failed in both the innings so far. In the first qualifier where they outplayed Delhi Capitals on Thursday, Rohit fell leg before to Ravi Ashwin for no score - but the tremendous depth of the ‘Paltans’ saw Quinton de Kock, Surya Kumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan and Hardik Pandya propel them to a match-winning total of 200.
The big stage performer that he is, Rohit could well be one innings away from hitting form again - and it would be icing on the cake if it comes in the final where a slew of records are in line for the white ball great. For starters, Mumbai are in line for a record fifth IPL crown (they are already ahead of Chennai Super Kings who have three titles) and could be only the second team after CSK to win back-to-back titles.
However, the question mark over his fitness will refuse to go away - an issue which leaves the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) red-faced after they didn’t pick him for any of the formats for the Australia tour. It was impossible to miss out on the statement that Rohit and his franchise were trying to make when barely hours after the announcement of the squads, MI tweeted pictures of their captain in ‘‘full flow’’ at the nets.
It is learnt that the board physio Nitin Patel had given a feedback to the selectors which suggested the cricketer had suffered a ligament tear and could be in doubt for the entire tour. However, making his return after sitting out four games against Sunrisers Hyderabad in the last league game, a smiling Rohit said after the game that he was feeling fine and match-ready and there were no problems with his hamstring.
The lack of transparency on part of the Indian board about the nature of his injury and possible time of recovery - actually showed them in poor light and suggested that they could be in awe of the IPL franchises. BCCI president Sourav Ganguly, now in Dubai for the final stages of the IPL, struck a cautious note in an interview with one of the Indian TV channels when he said: ‘‘If your best player (read: Rohit) is fit, he goes and plays.’’
A few days before that, Head Coach Ravi Shastri sounded a word of caution for Rohit in an interview against making a premature return that could cause long-term harm. Shastri cited his own example when during the 1991-92 tour of Australia, he suffered a knee injury during the Test series, returned home, underwent an operation went back eager to play the World Cup and broke down almost immediately. Shastri claimed he lost three-four years of cricket due to his impatience.
This is where a lot of questions remain unanswered - including the protocol of BCCI in monitoring their contracted players while playing the IPL. While the MI maintained a discreet silence on the status of Rohit’s fitness, their support staff must have given the star the clearance to turn out in the two IPL games since picking up the injury.
There will be more questions, than answers, on this one!