Mumbai Indians' Hardik Pandya plays a shot
The question mark over Mumbai Indians star allrounder Hardik Pandya has been keeping the team management on the edge. Image Credit: AFP

Kolkata: It’s not often Mumbai Indians, the five time IPL champions, find themselves in situation like this in the business-end of the tournament. Two losses in as many games in the UAE leg of the tournament have now pushed them to an unfamiliar sixth position - though Zaheer Khan, their Director of Cricket Operations, kept up a brave face ahead of their next game against Royal Challengers Bangalore on Sunday.

‘‘This team certainly knows how to perform under pressure,’’ said Zaheer, while agreeing that his squad is beset with a number of problems - from the uncertainty over the availability of star allrounder Hardik Pandya to a fragile middle order. The former Indian pace ace refused to give a heads-up if Pandya can be seen in action in the late game on Sunday.

‘‘We have a practice session today and then we will take a call on Pandya - we are hopeful that he will be available,’’ Zaheer said during a virtual media interaction on Saturday.


Speaking about slumping to back-to-back losses, first against Chennai Super Kings and then Kolkata Knight Riders with the latter managing to turn a corner against them (KKR had an extremely poor head-to-head record of 6-22 with MI before the win), Zaheer said: ‘‘See, IPL has become so competitive and all teams have become smart in their preparations. However, we have had a few conversations and trust me, this team certainly knows how to perform under pressure.’’

Mumbai’s normally explosive middle order, which had played a big role in their success over the years, had been strangely subdued even during the Indian leg. Suryakumar Yadav, who had taken up so much responsibility in the 2020 season, fell for 3 and 5 in his two innings in the UAE so far while Ishan Kishan is nowhere near his imperious form which yielded him 500-plus runs last year.

Asked to point a finger on what’s ailing the middle order, Zaheer said: ‘‘It’s an area of concern, but it’s just a of getting into rhythm in that one game. We are looking forward to the challenge to make history (a hat-trick of titles). We all know how important this season is.’’

Is the dugout asking too much from Kieron Pollard in view of the failure of others? ‘‘He is the kind of player who wants to take on more responsibility. We have got to accept what has happened and look to turn around from here. The next five games are crucial,’’ he said.

In the earlier game on Sunday, table-toppers Chennai Super Kings will take on a resurgent Kolkata Knight Riders at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi.