Rohit Sharma
Rohit Sharma’s captaincy has been a major factor in the success of the Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League. After two miserable seasons, Sharma will look to steer them back to the top. But their bowling options are not encouraging. Image Credit: Sportzpics for IPL

The Mumbai Indians have won five times in 15 years of the Indian Premier League. That’s an incredible feat, but they can’t gloat since the Chennai Super Kings are breathing down their necks with four titles.

As Season 16 begins in Ahmedabad on Friday, the Mumbai Indians are looking to recover from one of the biggest slumps in the franchise’s history. They haven’t qualified for the playoffs in the last two years, and in 2022, they hit rock bottom, ending at the base of the points table.

The abysmal lows are perplexing for a formidable side which has been so dominant. How can such a supremely talented team go through fluctuating fortunes? That’s because of the intense competition, where all teams can beat others.

Six teams have scaled the podium, and four have been winners multiple times. That makes Mumbai’s supremacy laudable. Much of their success could be attributed to the abundant talent and the resources to turn them into a well-drilled side.

Mumbai Indians’ recipe for success

Talent and resources are not enough. They had put together a strategy which worked wonders. A strong bunch of Indian players are at the core of the team, which is topped up with some of the best foreign players. The plan was put in place after the struggle of the early years.

The Sachin Tendulkar era wasn’t rewarding, and the best show was a runner-up spot to the CSK in 2010. Three years later, they hit pay dirt under Rohit Sharma, who led the squad after Australia’s Ricky Ponting stepped down.

The six years from 2015 was Mumbai’s best period as they notched four wins. Three came in the four years from 2017 when Sri Lanka’s Mahela Jayawardene took over as the head coach. By then, Sharma had matured into a leader with a clutch of eager and gifted players in Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan, Hardik Pandya and Jasprit Bumrah. The foreign legion was made up of Kieron Pollard, Trent Boult and Quinton de Kock.

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Mumbai became the side to beat. Even Sharma’s absence in some games in 2020 didn’t matter, as they lorded the competition with comprehensive wins. But soon disaster struck. The departure of New Zealand’s Boult, brothers Hardik and Krunal Pandya, along with leggie Rahul Chahar, upset their balance, and Mumbai went into a tailspin.

As Mumbai gears up for IPL 16 to revive their fortunes, they have a new head coach in South Africa’s Mark Boucher. Pollard has become the batting coach. The only new players are Australia’s Cameron Green and Vishnu Vinod, who hails from Kerala.

How injuries quashed Mumbai hopes

They have a strong international contingent from last year’s auction, including Australians Tim David and Jason Behrendorff and South African youngsters Dewal Brevis and Tristan Stubbs. England’s Jofra Archer, who missed out last year through injury, makes a welcome return.

Injuries had blighted Mumbai’s prospects last year. They sorely missed Archer, who would have been an effective replacement for Boult. Bumrah and Archer would have made a lethal combination. And now, when Archer returns, Bumrah is unavailable as he is recovering from back surgery. Another pacer Australia’s Jhye Richardson too is on the injury list.

What are Mumbai’s prospects this year? Archer’s pace is an asset, and the arrival of allrounder Cameron Green will provide significant momentum, particularly if he opens the batting. The powerplays were Mumbai’s Achilles heel last year.

What happened to Mumbai bowling?

The rest of the batting looks assured, but they will be sweating on Yadav’s wretched form. Tilak Varma and Brevis had their moments last year, but David didn’t live up to his big-hitting reputation. Without Pollard and Hardik Pandya, Mumbai will want the Australian to reprise his form in the Big Bash League and finish games for them.

Behrendorff is expected to partner Archer, yet the bowling isn’t menacing. Spin is very thin. Piyush Chawla is the lone spinner of repute, although Kumar Kartikeya looked impressive in his limited opportunities last year. Their stock of Indian bowlers won’t send a shiver down the spines of rival batsmen.

Simply put, Mumbai don’t have the bowling to win IPL 2023. Even a playoff spot looks remote. If they win the title, I will be surprised.