April 30, 2014

Let's talk about Mumbai

Why are last year's all-conquering Intergalactic Champions of T20 rooting around at the foot of the table?

The Pollard problem: he throws his bat around but not quite like you wanted him to © BCCI

By the time you read this, Mumbai may not be bottom of the IPL, although if they are not bottom of the IPL, they will certainly be next to bottom.

Wednesday's game with Hyderabad is a clash of the fallen titans, a primeval mud-wrestling match in which two lightly armoured, medium-sized dinosaurs squabble ineffectually to see who will be last out of the tar pit. As heavyweight bouts go, it's not so much a rumble in the jungle as a rustle in the undergrowth.

So what has gone wrong? Why are last year's all-conquering Intergalactic Champions of T20 rooting around at the foot of the table, hoping that a good showing in the Pepsi Play Nice Politeness League might offset their lack of proper points?

This blog doesn't often dabble in technical cricket analysis, because my credentials in the field of technical cricket analysis are somewhat lacking. I haven't ever played for England. I haven't even played for Worcestershire, and I was thrown out of cricket journalism college for misplacing an apostrophe in a Duncan Fletcher quote.

I have spent a decade or three watching cricket, but then I've also spent a lot of time over the years watching sparrows, and that hasn't helped me to attain more than a shaky grasp of the rudiments of flying, egg-rearing and nest-building.

Still, as a decadent capitalist, I recognise a gap in the market when I see one. ESPNcricinfo is full of qualified people offering informed opinions, but who is catering for those who are looking for uninformed speculation and uneducated guesswork? No one.

So, Mumbai: what's the problem?

Well first of all, there has been a 100% drop in the Sachin quotient. Without him, there is no wind in Mumbai's sails, there is no air in their blue balloon, there is no music in their hearts, there is no seasoning in their sandwiches… well, you get the idea.

Then there's the Pollard problem. This is similar to the predicament of the man who bought Damien Hirst's diamond-studded skull. It's an eye-bogglingly expensive conversation piece, one of the world's top conversation pieces, in fact. But where to put it?

If you mount it over your front door, you get the conversation out of the way early, which is a bit of a waste. On the other hand, if you wait until the guests are leaving before bringing out the skull, then the brilliance of the diamond-skull related conversation is squeezed into the last moments of the evening and you end up wondering what might have been as you tidy away the dips and the untouched champagne bottles.

In fact, Mumbai have a double problem, because as well as a diamond-encrusted skull, they also have a peculiar object d' art from New Zealand: an over-stuffed Kiwi bird that was purchased at the height of the market in a storm of publicity, but which, on closer examination, looks a little dull and ordinary. Do you bring out the work of obscure New Zealand taxidermist Corey J Anderson before the diamond Pollard or after?

Thirdly, Mumbai have contracted a nasty case of the shuffles, an infectious disease common in T20 teams, with symptoms including confusion, indecision, and the overwhelming desire to move Mike Hussey up and down the batting order.

It has also been said that they have too many old players. This is nonsense. Younger cricketers, prone to throwing themselves around with hamstring-endangering abandon can learn much from the way that the older professional conserves energy by refraining from such reckless activities as sprinting, running, bending, jumping or stretching.

So what can Mumbai do about it? Nothing. Not only can they do nothing about it, but they don't need to either, because there's nothing wrong with Mumbai.

All the IPL teams are the same: stuffed with big biffers and wily ball flingers, taking turns to be awful and brilliant, according to the law of cricket averages. Look at Delhi. Complete duffers last season; only partial duffers this year. All Mumbai have to do is pick a team and stick to it and they are bound to start winning sooner or possibly later.

And even if they don't, at least they'll be keeping us entertained.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here