Mumbai Indians' Kieron Pollard
Mumbai Indians’ Kieron Pollard is bowled by Harshal Patel of Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL 2021 match in Dubai on September 26, 2021. Image Credit: Sportzpics for IPL/PTI

What’s happened to the Mumbai Indians? They have lost all three matches in Phase 2 of IPL 2021. Right now, Mumbai can do nothing right. And their qualification for playoffs is in jeopardy — an unlikely scenario for five-time winners.

Mumbai are exactly the same side that won IPL 2020 in the UAE. A team that dominated the tournament winning most of their matches comprehensively. Rohit Sharma’s side even turned the final against the Delhi Capitals into a one-sided affair.

So, what changed? Nothing. They are essentially the same team. Player for player, they are the same side. What has changed is the performance. Batsmen who were matchwinners last year have become abject failures. And that hurt badly. So badly that they couldn’t chase down fighting totals or didn’t have enough on the board for the bowlers to defend.

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Batting failures are the core of Mumbai’s wretched streak. Even in India, they started the tournament with a string of patchy performances. Openers Rohit Sharma and Quinton de Kock have generally been in good nick, good enough to capitalise on the powerplay. It’s the middle-order that’s been giving coach Mahela Jayawardene major headaches.

Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan are in a slump. The sublime strokes of Yadav and the bravado of Kishan were the trademarks of Mumbai wins in Season 13. That’s been missing this year. That’s why the batting goes into a tailspin soon after the powerplay.

The two were so good in IPL 2020 that Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya merely had to turn up at the slog overs to crash some sixes. That’s no longer the case. The big hitters now come into a crisis when the pressure is rising. And that’s been a recipe for failure.

The Pollard blitzkrieg

Only once did Pollard showed glimpses of his destructive batting. His 34-ball 87 against the Chennai Super Kings in Delhi is one of the high points of IPL 2021. We haven’t seen a good Pollard knock after that. And Hardik Pandya has been busy nursing his injuries.

So what can Mumbai do? Drop Yadav and Kishan? That’s not easy. These are class players, and one good innings will put them back in the groove. But when will that happen? Can Mumbai afford to risk it? The playoff bus could well have long gone by the time the two run into form.

It’s clear that Mumbai batting will need surgery, and that must be keeping Jayawardene awake. He’s been there and knows his players well. So I’m sure we will see his hand when Mumbai meet the Punjab Kings on Tuesday.

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Allow me to step into Jayawardene’s shoes. Here’s what I would do. Bring Saurabh Tiwary to the No 3 slot to anchor the innings. Pollard at No 4, followed by Yadav and Kishan. The Pandya brothers, Hardik and Krunal, can handle the death.

Why wouldn’t I drop Yadav and Kishan? Because they are a class act. I would want them to rediscover their form ahead of the T20 World Cup. At least one of them will make India’s starting XI. So it would be prudent to give them opportunities to find their form without hurting Mumbai’s chances of making the last four in IPL 2021.

Let’s wait till Tuesday to see how Jayawardene and Sharma will rejig the batting. If Mumbai can’t resolve their batting woes, they could go the CSK way last year: to the basement of the points table. That would be a shame. Five-time champs don’t deserve that.