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Mumbai Indians in a bind over batting

It’s early days yet, but there’s enough signs that Mumbai Indians have a fair bit of work to do before they settle on a batting order that can challenge opposition IPL teams. In two matches in four days, their batsmen have put up totals of 122 for 7 and 115 for 9. Both matches ended in defeat. On both occasions, a common theme was on view: shaky start, shaky middle order and shaky finish.

In the tournament opener on Wednesday, MI were set 164 and finished on 122 for 7. Three batsmen made it to double-figures – Nos 2 (Aditya Tare with 24), 3 (Ambati Rayudu with 48) and 4 (Rohit Sharma with 27). On Saturday in Dubai, MI were asked to bat by Virat Kohli and struggled from the start, with only four batsmen crossing 10 – Michael Hussey (16), Tare (17), Rayudu (35) and Corey Anderson (18). Kieron Pollard again failed and the lower order offered no fight.

Tellingly, MI were tied down by the impressive legspin of Yuvzendra Chahal (4-0-17-2) and surprisingly accurate Ashok Dinda (4-0-14-1) while Mitchell Starc bagged 2 for 21 from his quota. In contrast, Parthiv Patel and AB de Villiers were able to pick runs off Pragyan Ojha and Jasprit Bumrah as they smoothed over a poor start with a 99-run association.

A total of 115 for 9 was never really going to challenge the best batting line-up of the tournament. Despite stellar opening spells from Lasith Malinga and Zaheer Khan, who handed Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh ducks in the same over, RCB won in the 18th over with seven wickets remaining. To say that Mumbai Indians were poor with the bat is an understatement and this with RCB dropping two catches and missing three run outs.

The opening partnership is crucial in any form of the game, but in Tests and even in ODIs, batsmen have the cushion of being able to spend some time to play themselves in before stepping on the pedal. Not so in T20 cricket, where batsmen must soak up the pressure of early wickets without letting it hamper the momentum of the innings. A strong start is arguably the single most important factor for success in T20’s compressed nature, but so far MI have not been able to lay platforms.

The opening combination has in fact been the franchise’s bugbear for most of the IPL’s history and now that the best opener they ever had, Dwayne Smith, is not around they look poor. In game one, Hussey and Tare put on 24 in 4.4 overs before the former was bowled by Sunil Narine. On Sunday, the opening stand was worth 20 in 3.5 overs. Hussey in particular has struggled for timing and the team will hope he returns to form quickly considering how huge he is for the line-up.

As he has done in India’s limited-overs side countless times, Rohit fell to mistimed lofted shots. Against KKR, on 27, he swung Morne Morkel to deep midwicket in the 16th over. Against RCB he chipped straight to long-off for 2 on the first ball of the tenth over. His team went from a healthy 60 for 2 in nine overs to 115 in 20. Rohit cannot be singled out but as the leader and team’s best batsman – a true IPL superstar – he would do well to be more judicious with his shots.

Rohit has previously batted at No 4 for the franchise but currently at the international level he is opening for India and thus the logical decision would have been to push him up the order in the IPL too. But the management has not and this could have Rohit in a bit of quandary, considering he has suddenly found himself in an entirely different situation. The team would do well to consider having him open with Hussey.

Having enjoyed a memorable 2013 with the IPL and Champions League titles, Mumbai Indians entered IPL 7 as perhaps as the team under most amount of pressure not entirely because they were defending champions but because they had big voids to fill after February’s player auction. With Sachin Tendulkar, Dinesh Karthik, Dwayne Smith and Mitchell Johnson gone, the Reliance-owned team’s test was always going to how the replacements fared.

A closer look at their squad composition shows reliance – no pun intended – on their Indian talent and it’s here that MI are a bit short. The challenge has been to fit in the extra domestic batsmen and the management has had to play one from CM Gautam, Aditya Tare, Apoorva Wankhede and Jalaj Saxena in each game. With all due respect to these four domestic players, their T20 numbers are not that impressive – and that means the international players have more to do.

Fans of the franchise will hope this muddle batting order gets sorted out soon, before MI slip too far behind.

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