IPL: Why are Mumbai Indians reduced to a shadow of themselves this year?

While Hardik Pandya looked clueless as captain, the team hardly played as a unit

Hardik Pandya with batting coach Kieron Pollard (photo: BCCI)
Hardik Pandya with batting coach Kieron Pollard (photo: BCCI)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The aura of invincibility around Mumbai Indians, five-time champions in IPL, is certainly a thing of the past now. Their 24-run defeat to Kolkata Knight Riders on Friday night, which ended a 12-year jinx for the later at the fortress of Wankhede, meant the Mumbai Paltan are as good as out of reckoning for a shot at the play-offs.

A shambolic campaign, which saw Hardik Pandya’s team losing eight of their 11 league matches so far, sees them languishing at ninth position so far with Royal Challengers Bengaluru bringing up the rear after having played a match less. They have seen worse during their journey though – having endured a 10th-place finish in the 2022 season – before bouncing back to at least make the playoffs in 2023.      

What exactly has been the bane of the team which had won the title last time behind closed doors in Dubai in 2020 during the pandemic? This season, Pandya had certainly been the fall guy both as the new captain and allrounder as he failed to inspire enough confidence and was a caricature of himself in the post-match interviews but let’s face it – it’s been a collective failure on the part of the team.

If Pandya had looked as a street smart captain in the last two seasons for Gujarat Titans, something which also convinced the BCCI top brass that he could be India’s potential T20 leader for the future, the fact one under-estimated was leading Mumbai Indians brings it’s own share of pressure and expectations. Things started going wrong for him from the first match itself when he brought himself on instead of throwing the new ball to Jasprit Bumrah while the batting order had looked confused and without a gameplan.

The job of a modern day captain, be it in franchise cricket or internationally, has got tougher because of the TV pundits and social media – but it’s difficult to remember such angst in the past that Pandya had been facing over the last two months.

Here’s what Graeme Smith, former South Africa captain, had to say on Jio Cinema after their defeat on Friday: ‘’Hardik has really struggled. He looked a man under pressure that obviously has created a bit of turmoil in the environment and who knows how it’s affected people. But even their batting line-up, it just looked they were confused. You know, I think Tilak Varma, Wadhera floating in the middle order, Naman Dhir batting at three tonight they are moving all over the place. They should have had Tilak at 3, SKY at 4 and Hardik at 5 throughout the season, David at 6 and then figure out your bowling unit.’’

Point taken, but shouldn’t it be also a collective responsibility to figure out what’s best for the team or was Hardik being set up for failure? In the clutter of unconfirmed reports in the media, it was virtually impossible to figure out whether India captain Rohit Sharma was proactive enough or was the new captain not responsive to suggestions? The MI dugout has been, as always, the most decorated one with Little Master Sachin Tendulkar, Kieron Pollard and Lasith Malinga adorning it – not to speak of new head coach Matt Boucher.

A certain degree of accountability also has to rest with the big wigs, not to speak of the team ownership, to bring everyone on the same page – unless the breakdown of trust between the concerned parties has been irreparable. Rohit Sharma (326 runs), meanwhile, had been the second highest scorer for the team in the current season after Tilak (347) while there are other sporadic bright sparks like Jasprit Bumrah leading the Purple Cap race with 17 wickets and Gerald Coetzee (13) also impressive with his intent.

However, it was evident that the team was hardly playing as an unit. Who knows that after the mega auction in 2025, the team may hardly bear any resemblance with MI as we have known all these years!

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