Will this Mumbai Indians team be able to defend their IPL crown in 2021? Here we preview what has been the strongest squad in the IPL for some time as they chase an historic 3rd title in a row.
There used to be a pattern of Mumbai Indians having a good season followed by a poor season but that theory was shattered last year when MI defended their title with ease and with just a few tweaks to that talented squad during the auction, there’s no reason to believe that they won’t be there or thereabouts again in 2021.
MI Team Preview IPL 2021 – Batting
All the best teams in any format of cricket have a certain aura about them that is created off the back of their success. As you look down the batting line-up for Mumbai Indians you get that feeling and it is difficult to really find any weak spots.
At the top of the order come 2 of the classiest white ball cricketers of all time in Rohit Sharma and Quinton de Kock. It’d be fair to say that on an individual basis, Rohit hasn’t been at his best these last couple of years averaging below 30 and failing to make the 450 run mark in both title winning campaigns. We all know that the Hitman has a reputation for going big in white ball cricket but with just 5 fifties from the start of IPL 2019 it’s not quite happened for him.
Don’t get me wrong, he is still a brilliant player and if nothing else what he does and has done for a long period of time is win cricket matches either off his own bat or via his captaincy, a trait you can’t put a price on that. Still, he’s in need of a big season this year as Indian look to finalise their plans for the World T20 that takes place later in the year and with the national team not exactly short on talent and options even a player of Rohit’s stature isn’t a certainty.
De Kock meanwhile seems to have found his home in Mumbai after a couple of seasons in the IPL wilderness. Being given the opportunity to open the batting on a game by game basis has done his performances the world of good and while MI have some impressive top order options on the bench in the form of Chris Lynn and Saurabh Tiwary it’d take a serious drop off in form or fitness for them to replace the settled pairing of Rohit and de Kock.
In fact, “settled” is very much the best word to describe the remainder of the MI batting line-up for IPL 2021. Ishan Kishan and Suryakumar Yadav were rewarded for their stellar IPL 2020 seasons with call-ups to the India T20 side. Both made an immediate impact with a typically explosive half-centuries and again coming into a a home World Cup you’d imagine that Kishan and Yadav will be keen to impress in order to stake a claim for some of the hotly contested top order position in India’s T20 side.
If that wasn’t enough for you, MI then have several high quality all-rounders waiting in the engine room. Again the aura and reputation that a few of these guys carry with them as they stroll out to the middle is enough to strike fear into opposition bowlers before they’ve even taken guard. Kieron Pollard, the most experienced player in the history of the T20 format is still going strong and he is very much one of Rohit’s trusted lieutenants on the field.
Pollard’s record in the IPL is incredible. He sits sixth on the all-time six hitting list behind a group of top order batsmen many of whom have faced over twice the number of deliveries he has. In essence he hits a six once about every 10 balls and boundary (4 or 6) about once every 5 balls. And yet, there is reason to argue that he isn’t the most destructive player in the side! While Pollard has the long-term records and Ishan Kishan struck the most 6s in IPL 2020 it is surely Hardik Pandya who is the biggest threat at the back end of an innings.
Hardik Pandya may have struck 5 fewer maximums than Ishan Kishan last season but the 25 sixes he did get came from just 157 deliveries nearly 200 balls fewer than his top order colleague. With the consistency of run scoring in the top 4 coupled with the destructive power in the middle to lower order it’s not difficult to see why this Mumbai team have been so dominant.
Then comes “the other Pandya” somewhat more understated than his younger brother but still a highly effective all round cricketer and someone who will be key to MI’s title push again especially on the slower surfaces they’ve been drawn to play on (see below). Being a left-hander, the Indians often deploy him up or down the order as the game situation suits and it’s that flexibility and selflessness that makes him such a key component of this batting unit. He may not possess the power game or flair of the players mentioned before but he can certainly do a job for MI when needed.
The only addition to the potential batting stocks during the 2021 auction was Kiwi James Neesham who will presumably be back up for Pollard or Hardik Pandya or if they choose to Mumbai could play him as another all-rounder at the expense of one the overseas quicks (see below). At the very least he is a safe pair of hands with a proven track record at international level and while his game time has been limited in an IPL career stretching 7 years, MI know exactly what they are getting which is a very good squad player.
MI Team Preview IPL 2021 – Bowling
As we’ve already discussed one of the big strengths of Mumbai as a bowling unit is their all round options and those options look even better this year with the return from injury of Hardik Pandya who has proved his fitness as part of a 5 man bowling attack in India’s T20 series against England. With his brother offering some left-arm darts (I hesitate to use the word spin) from the other end and even Kieron Pollard rolling back the years to do a bit of bowling last year then Mumbai already have a fair chunk of the overs covered before we’ve even hit the specialist bowlers.
Of those bowlers and like much of the Mumbai Indian’s team it’s the combinations that work so well for the defending champions. In Jasprit Bumrah, Mumbai posses arguably the best quick bowler across all forms of cricket in the world but it was in T20 that he really made a name for himself with his unusual action and uncanny ability to hit his yorkers.
As a foil to Bumrah’s right arm pace are Trent Boult’s left arm swingers. I’m a massive fan of T20 sides having a genuine swing bowling option to take wickets in the powerplay. Let the guys who can bowl their variations and half dozen different slower balls have their fun in the middle overs, if you can move the ball in the early stages of any game of cricket then you’ve more than a good chance of picking up wickets and that is exactly what Trent Boult is capable of delivering. However, beyond that, Boult has also developed into an excellent death over asset for Mumbai as indicated by the stats below.
In support of Bumrah and Boult, Mumbai generally look to play a 3rd seamer although as we’ll see later conditions may tempt them to go for the extra spinner early on. Last season it was Coulter-Nile or Pattinson this year it will be either the former or Adam Milne the Kiwi quick. Milne who has genuine pace had a pretty good time of it for Sydney Thunder in this year’s BBL and seems to have gotten over some of the injury problems that have hampered his recent career. Fitness wise Coulter-Nile was unavailable for large parts of the same tournament and it would be a blow to Mumbai to lose him both for his versatility as a bowler and his hitting power at number 8.
That being said, the champions aren’t short of options. They also have the experienced Dhawal Kulkarni, young left-armer Marco Jansen from South African who is something of an unknown quantity and a another left-arm seamer going by the name Tendulkar. The signing of Arjun Tendulkar son of India legend Sachin raised a few eyebrows and calls of nepotism from certain quarters given that the 21-year-old has only played a couple of T20 games at List A level. He is, however, a member of India’s U-19 squad which in itself is an achievement given the amount of raw talent the country has to work with. Time will tell if he can forge a career in the long shadow cast by his famous cricketing father.
The spin options for Mumbai are also looking good and with the neutral venues that they have to play on the acquisition of Piyush Chawla may yet prove to be a masterstroke for the men in blue and gold. Chawla’s expensive and brief stay at CSK ended in ultimate failure and you’d imagine that he will be second choice here to the impressive young Rahul Charar who continues to go from strength to strength and is now looking to establish himself as first choice for the national team heading into the T20 World Cup.
Further options are provided by in the finger spin department by Jayant Yadav the right armer or young Anukul Roy the left-armer both of whom have had opportunities in the IPL when Mumbai feel that it’s a spinners wicket.
Overall, it’s difficult to find a weakness in the Mumbai Indians team when considering their squad alone. I guess the only question is do they have the hunger to win it a third time?
To that, I’d point out 2 things. Firstly the IPL will be used by the national selectors to form their final plans for the T20 World Cup so it’s imperative for players like Rohit, Kishan, and Yadav that they score big runs to maintain their current positions while fringe players like Krunal Pandya could open up the door for another go at international level if they can impressive in 2021. Secondly, IPL 2022 will be very different. This is likely to be the last time this squad is together following a super auction at the end of the year so there must be an incentive to put in one final push to get this 3rd title in a row a record that is likely to stay for some time.
MI Team Preview IPL 2021 – Venues
As noted above, Mumbai’s move to bring in a player of Piyush Chawla’s experience could prove to be very important. Yes, he struggled in last season’s IPL but CSK undoubtedly purchased him on the basis that they believed he’d be playing on their slow turning wickets in Chennai only to later find that they’d be over in the UAE.
Fortunately for Mumbai Indians or at least for Chawla they do start the defence of their title with 5 games at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium before going onto Delhi which is also a track that generally favours the slower bowlers.
While not having quite the same amount of experience as Chawla, and despite his sullen expression in the infographic below, Rahul Chahar must also being do a little jig in his hotel room at the thought of not having to bowl at the Wankhede. The young wrist spinner has managed just one wicket at Mumbai’s home ground from the 19 overs he’s bowled there but even in his limited game time on the surfaces of Chennai and Delhi has shown that he’s a real threat there!
Rahul Chahar – IPL bowling record by venue
Wankhede Stadium – 19 overs, 1 wicket, ave 136, S/R 114, economy 7.16
M. A. Chidambaram Stadium – 8 overs, 2 wickers, ave 17.5, S/R 24, economy 4.38
Arun Jaitley Stadium – 4 overs, 3 wickets, ave 6.33, S/R 8, economy 4.33
Batting wise on these slower wickets it’s understandable that averages and strike rates will suffer. However, Mumbai’s game plan on these types of surfaces is generally to lay a platform in the opening part of the innings before launching an attack later on with their big hitters in the middle and lower order.
In that respect Hardik Pandya and Kieron Pollard will play an important role and of course they have the records to suggest that they can pull it off.
They finish the round robin stage with a further 3 games in Bangalore and 2 more in Kolkata. These venues will probably give the quick bowlers more of a chance for overs and of course with its altitude we might see the best of some of the big hitters from MI at Bangalore. In general, Eden Gardens has been a venue that Mumbai and their players have very good records on so if they do need something from those final 2 games then the draw couldn’t have been kinder.
Cover image source CC license