IPL 2014 May 12, 2014

Auction strategy to blame for Mumbai's decline?

The muddled thought process at the auction resulted in Mumbai Indians left with not enough cash to buy solid domestic players

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With three wins from nine matches, defending champions Mumbai Indians have the proverbial mountain to climb for a place in this year's knockouts. Their play has been patchy but were the seeds of this torrid summer sown earlier in the year by the retention and auction strategy adopted by the franchise?

Owned by one of the world's richest families, this team has historically thrived in their profligacy. This year though, flummoxed by revised auction rules, the franchise found itself in an unusual situation - of being one among eight equals.

In a carefully considered decision, the IPL allowed each franchise to retain up to five of its players but if you did so, your purse of 60 crore rupees was reduced by 39 crores, i.e. nearly two-thirds.

Mumbai were one of three franchises that retained five players but at auction table, they wandered into habitual profligacy. Mumbai's four most expensive purchases were Mike Hussey (5 crores), Corey Anderson (4.5 crores), Pragyan Ojha (3.25 crores) and Zaheer Khan (2.60 crores).

Besides Anderson, none of the others were likely to make a sustained impact and haven't. Hussey has been sitting out after four games that fetched him 30 runs at 7.50. Zaheer was ruled out with a shoulder injury but in six games, he took 5 wickets at nearly 30 runs apiece. Ojha has taken one wicket in six games at an economy rate of 8.65.

The muddled thought process at the auction resulted in their salary bill for just nine players ballooning up to 54.35 crore rupees and left them with just 5.65 crores for the rest of the squad. With uncapped Indian players part of the auction unlike previous seasons, it was an invitation for trouble.

Mumbai simply didn't have the cash left to pick up even one sought after uncapped player such as Sandeep Sharma, Manish Pandey, Karn Sharma, Rajat Bhatia, Rishi Dhawan, Ishwar Pandey and Kedar Jadhav. Each of them has gone on to make an impression in the tournament. Mumbai's picks Aditya Tare, C M Gautam and Jasprit Bumrah have been gutsy but mostly mediocre.

The strategy of the other two franchises that retained a maximum of five players - Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings, was more assured. Super Kings' three most expensive buys were Faf du Plessis (4.75 crores), Dwayne Smith (4.50 crores) and Brendon McCullum (3.25 crores) - all high impact and in-form current internationals.

Add them to the five retained and it is no surprise the team finds itself at the top end of the table. Royals too were equally prescient - their top three buys were Steve Smith (4 crores), Brad Hodge (2.4 crores) and Rajat Bhatia (1.7 crores) that complemented the smart retentions that gave the squad its core strength.

Perhaps, as defending champions Mumbai were swayed by emotion and not cold logic in formulating their strategy. Two retentions, Rohit Sharma and Lasith Malinga were no-brainers. But were Ambati Rayudu and Harbhajan Singh valuable enough to be retained or could they have been purchased back with the Right to Match card at a lower price point? Much like the Kolkata Knight Riders did for Yusuf Pathan and Jacques Kallis or Sunrisers Hyderabad for Darren Sammy?

Neither was certain to get a massive bid and although both have made contributions this season, they certainly don't have the aura of match-winners. Rayudu has made a couple of half centuries in his nine games at the top of the order while Harbhajan has used his experience wisely for his six wickets so far.

Even Kieron Pollard's retention was a hopeful punt as he was returning from a long injury break and had missed the World T20. He's flowered in a couple of games but has failed to make a consistent impact.

Much of this is said of course with the benefit of hindsight and Mumbai might yet put together a compelling run that takes them into the knockouts and beyond. But from the outside, it appears Mumbai's management team didn't quite grasp how the ground rules had changed. With a steady supply line of impact players cut off, it is no wonder this is a team that has lost twice as many games as they've won so far.

Gaurav Kalra is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo