Rohit Sharma
Rohit Sharma, captain of Mumbai Indians, during the match against the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Tata Indian Premier League 2022 at the MCA International Stadium in Pune on April 9, 2022 . Image Credit: Sportzpics for IPL

The Mumbai Indians and the Chennai Super Kings have won nine of the 14 titles in the Indian Premier League. That makes them favourites every season. But IPL 15 hasn’t gone well for them. Both suffered losses in the first four games. But you could argue that they are notoriously slow starters.

It’s especially true of Mumbai, who started with four losses in 2014 before sealing the playoff spot. The pattern repeated in the next year too and they went on to win the title. So regular IPL watchers won’t write off Mumbai or Chennai. These are sides capable of stemming the tide and winning the title.

Winning is a habit, they say. Mumbai have won the IPL five times and Chennai four. So these are franchises who know a thing or two about winning. So how can they turn around their campaigns this season? No, it’s not a lost cause. If they can win eight of the next 10 games, a playoff spot could be theirs.

How can they make it happen? It’s not easy because they have to use the available resources.

Where’s Mumbai Indians going wrong?

Let’s look at Mumbai first. The loss of Trent Boult hurt them badly since the New Zealander had always brought them wickets in the powerplay. That allowed skipper Rohit Sharma to crank up the pressure. Mumbai had bought Jofra Archer as a replacement; the English speedster is a good buy, but he will be available only next season.

In the absence of an injured Archer, Mumbai will have to do with Tymal Mills, who’s more a handy bowler in the slog overs. He’s got pace but he wouldn’t bring in early wickets. Last year, Mumbai also had the luxury of picking either James Patterson or Nathan Coulter-Nile to partner Boult. That allowed Sharma to bring in ace pacer Jasprit Bumrah later in the innings. Now Mumbai have to pitchfork Bumrah early in the search for wickets in the powerplay.

Ruturaj  Gaikwad
Ruturaj Gaikwad of the Chennai Super Kings reacts during the match against the Sunrisers Hyderabad in the Tata Indian Premier League 2022 at the DY Patil Stadium in Mumbai on April 9, 2022. Image Credit: Sportzpics for IPL

Leggie Rahul Chahar’s slot has been adequately filled by Murugan Ashwin, but there’s no left-arm spinner to plug the Krunal Pandya slot. Daniel Sams and Jayadev Unadkat had been found wanting in the third seamer slot, and they leak runs in the slog. So plenty of problems in the attack.

Batting has been somewhat shored up by the return of Suryakumar Yadav, who has anchored the innings well in the last two games. Ishan Kishan, Rohit Sharma and young Tilak Varma have had some innings of brilliance, but consistency is lacking. And big-hitter Kieron Pollard is yet to fire, and Tim David, who came in place of Hardik Pandya, hasn’t exactly set the stadium on fire. But Sharma would do well to stick with David, given his record in the Big Bash League, although spin seems to be his undoing in the IPL.

The Chennai Super Kings' tailspin 

For the Chennai Super Kings, the problems started before the tournament. Their talisman Mahendra Singh Dhoni gave up the captaincy. That was after Deepak Chahar’s injury robbed them of wickets in the powerplay, and there are badly missing Josh Hazlewood, who played a decisive role in the win last year. The Australian’s replacement Adam Milne, who’s had a fantastic showing in the Hundred in England, had picked up a niggle in the first game and hasn’t been seen since.

Even spin is thin for Chennai. Maheesh Theekshana and Ravindra Jadeja are restrictive bowlers in T20 games. And a wicket-taker like Moeen Ali, who bowls in the powerplay for England, hasn’t had many overs. So Jadeja the captain may be missing a trick, or Dhoni as backseat captain hasn’t given it much thought.

Well, much of CSK’s woes lie in their batting too. Last year, openers Ruturaj Gaikwad and Faf du Plessis were chasing the Orange cap of the leading run-getter. Du Plessis has moved to Royal Challengers Bangalore, and Gaikwad struggles to score. That puts Chennai into a crisis in the powerplay, which seems to stifle the rest of the batters.

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In the past, even when Chennai have posted sub-par scores, they have bowled out their rivals. That’s in large measure due to Dhoni’s captaincy. A hint of chance, and he would pile the pressure on the rivals. Jadeja can turn to Dhoni for advice, but he doesn’t have the same bowlers to gain a breakthrough. There lies the nub of the CSK problem.

The Mumbai Indians and the Chennai Super Kings may have many problems, but I wouldn’t write them off. Mumbai didn’t qualify for the knockout last year, and Chennai finished a spot away from the basement the previous year. So they are capable of spectacular failures. Yet, it will need a brave man to dismiss their chances. I’m not.

A win or two would set them on the winning trail. That’s when the rivals shudder. A slight hesitation is enough for Mumbai and Chennai to go for the jugular. So write them off at your peril. I will not.