Mumbai Indians
Skipper Rohit Sharma of the Mumbai Indians shakes hands with Sunrisers Hyderabad captain Manish Pandey after the IPL game in Abu Dhabi on October 8, 2021. Image Credit: IPL/Twitter

The temptation to back five-time winners is irresistible, especially when they come into a new season with back-to-back titles. Mumbai Indians had champions written all over them in Season 14 of the Indian Premier League. At least, that’s what I thought.

Mumbai are notoriously slow starters, so the early defeats weren’t a worry. Once they hit the winning trail, Mumbai could be unstoppable, I insisted. When IPL 2021 went into a COVID-induced break, Rohit Sharma’s side were struggling to hold on to the fourth spot on the leaderboard.

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My faith in Mumbai was reaffirmed when IPL resumed in the UAE. I was sure that they could return to the winning ways. After all, this was the scene of their fifth triumph. The Mumbai pace pack had thrived on the pitches of Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah, and their batsmen made mincemeat of rival attacks. Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav were at their imperious best.

I expected a replay and that never happened. Kishan and Yadav struggled for runs, Trent Boult no longer struck in the powerplay, and Rahul Chahar couldn’t even hold down his place in the team. That wasn't a worry because of the depth of talent on the Mumbai bench. Mumbai’s qualification looked to be in peril when the Kolkata Knight Riders revived their campaign with string of stirring wins. But I was certain that Mumbai would claim the title, if they sneak into the last four. Not for nothing, they have five IPL titles, I thought.

What went wrong for Mumbai Indians?

The Mumbai think-tank is averse to making too many changes to the playing XI, much like the Chennai Super Kings. They won the 2020 title with almost the same team throughout the tournament; the only changes I remember were Jayant Yadav’s inclusion to tackle the Delhi Capital’s left-handers and Saurabh Tiwary making way for Kishan. Of course, Nathan Coulter-Nile and James Pattinson swapped places repeatedly.

They were more changes this year as Mumbai searched for a change in fortunes. But nothing too drastic. Yadav and Kishan retained their places before Kishan was dropped for a couple of matches. These are class players, and I argued that all they need is a good knock, justifying their inclusion.

Yadav and Kishan regained their touch gloriously, but by then, Mumbai’s chances of wresting a playoff spot had evaporated. They are not the only ones who should shoulder the blame for Mumbai batting failures. In fact, it’s a collective failure.

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Quinton de Kock and skipper Sharma had mediocre outings, so did Hardik Pandya. Kieron Pollard’s big-hitting was evident only in one match when he upended CSK’s march towards victory in Delhi. So generally, the batting was dismal, especially on slower pitches. If the batting is unreliable, pressure can torpedo the chase of even small targets. And bowlers found it difficult to defend small targets.

The bowling too hasn’t been great either. Boult’s lack of bite and Adam Milne’s inability to recreate The Hundred form in the IPL hurt Mumbai. Chahar too failed to hit the groove after some fine performances in India, which earned him a call-up to India’s World Cup team. Jasprit Bumrah tried valiantly but lacked support, and that’s reflected in the losses.

I think Mumbai didn’t deserve a place in the top four. The wins in the last two matches were authoritative, but they lacked the consistency to top such a competitive league.

Mumbai could take solace from the fact that three-time winners CSK finished at the bottom of the points table last year (CSK had a better net run rate than the Rajasthan Royals, who took the wooden spoon). Reputation counts for nothing in IPL if you don’t have the performances to back it. Mumbai would know that, having missed the playoff bus on three occasions in 14 seasons.

Adios MI paltans.