Hardik Pandya
Hardik Pandya of the Mumbai Indians cuts during the Indian Premier League match against the Punjab Kings in Abu Dhabi on September 28, 2021. Image Credit: PTI Photo/Sportzpics

Will the Mumbai Indians make the playoffs? That’s a difficult question since Mumbai have struggled in IPL 2021, especially on the UAE pitches. Even in India, the Rohit Sharma-led side had lost several games badly in the first phase of Season 14. The wins lacked the usual authority.

Die-hard Mumbai fans pointed out that Mumbai are generally slow off the blocks every season and tend to lose their first match. But the turnaround never happened as they lingered around the fourth on the points table. When the IPL action moved to the UAE, the fragility of Mumbai’s middle-order was brutally exposed.

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Five-time winners Mumbai’s troubles were difficult to swallow. Their professionalism and the quality of players on the roster make them perennial favourites. There’s so much depth in talent that replacements are readily available. But coach Mahela Jayawardene is reluctant to ring swift changes even when the going gets tough.

The game against the Punjab Kings gave us a glimpse of the Mumbai thought process. The misfiring Ishan Kishan was replaced, although Surykumar Yadav’s failures have been condoned. These players are class acts who need the team’s support.

When Yadav is given an extended lease, he should have been protected too. The No 3 slot is very crucial in any format of cricket. The player who comes in one-drop should be able to prevent a collapse if early wickets are lost and should step up the scoring pace if the situation demands. So the player should be adept at defence and attack.

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Yadav is a good choice, and he’s proved that with several sublime innings last year. But he’s totally out of form this year. His superb timing and footwork have deserted him. His thinking too looked muddled, as evident from the poor choice of shots.

It happens to the best of batsmen. One good innings should resolve it. For that, he needs protection. No. 3 is not the position for a batsman searching for form and confidence. Jayawardene would know that.

The good news for Mumbai is the return to the form of Hardik Pandya, who’s also been fighting for fitness. And he got lucky. Punjab let him off twice. A struggling batter needs a slice of luck. The innings should set Hardik free to play more such knocks. That’s good news for India too, ahead of the T20 World Cup.

But Mumbai worries are far from over. Saurabh Tiwary seems to be anchoring the team without being shackled. Hardik has run into from, and Pollard’s big-hitting is still intact. Openers Rohit Sharma and Quinton de Kock have been firing well, but they need one more in-form batsman to avert middle-order debacles. If not, they will continue to make weather of small targets and may even lose against the heavyweights.

Time is running out. Mumbai have to tweak their approach to avoid the ignominy of the Chennai Super Kings last year. Who would have thought CSK would finish at the basement? But if CSK can, Mumbai too can. So there’s no room for complacency. Mumbai can make the last four, but they have to show lot more intent. Or else, it will be a struggle.