Will Malinga's absence impact Mumbai?
Mumbai Indians had a Champions League title to their credit even before winning an IPL trophy. A team regularly tagged as pre-tournament favourites finally lived up to their billing when they beat the IPL's most successful team, Chennai Super Kings, in the final of IPL 2013. Mumbai were part of the Champions League last season as well, but struggled in South African conditions, failing to win any of their three completed games. Now with the tournament back in India, they will be more of a threat.
It will be an emotional moment, not just for Mumbai, but for cricket fans as Sachin Tendulkar signs off from mainstream limited-overs cricket upon the conclusion of this tournament. He had an ordinary IPL by his standards but at least got to be part of a winning IPL side. Getting there, Mumbai had to make some hard decisions, including dropping the underperforming Ricky Ponting as captain and batsman. Rohit Sharma not only led the side well, he also finished as the leading run-scorer for his side.
Mumbai suffered a blow in the lead up to this edition with the withdrawal of Lasith Malinga, one of their most prized overseas players, due to personal commitments. Their strength remains in their batting, with Dinesh Karthik and Ambati Rayudu - part of India's recent ODI squad in Zimbabwe - their key home players apart from Rohit. In this edition, Mumbai are in Group A with Rajasthan Royals, Perth Scorchers, Lions and Otago.
In Malinga's absence, the credence on Harbhajan Singh will increase. Harbhajan looked a different bowler in IPL 2013, flighting the ball a lot more, bowling quick topspinners. He finished with 24 wickets at a miserly economy of 6.51. Harbhajan, however, was not given a lifeline by the selectors, at least in the India A one-day squad featuring in the ongoing series against West Indies A. The Champions League is another chance for him to make a comeback, with the home season fast approaching.
Malinga has carried the seam attack for long, but Mumbai will have to cope without him in this edition. Mitchell Johnson bowled with fire and will be expected to fill Malinga's role. Besides Johnson, they don't have too many seam options. Abu Nechim and Rishi Dhawan are the only Indian seamers, while Nathan Coulter-Nile has limited international experience. The question, though, is whether they can afford to play two international seamers in the line-up, with the cap on foreign players at four.
The hyped Tendulkar-Ponting combine flopped at the top, causing the management to leave out Ponting. Dwayne Smith replaced him as opener and the West Indian made the position his own. In 13 games he scored 418 runs. Often guilty of throwing his wicket away after getting a start, Smith batted more responsibly and with greater consistency, scoring four fifties. His 62 in the second qualifier helped Mumbai progress to the final.
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo