Big spenders still searching for returns
If willingness to put millions behind desire was a guarantee of success, Mumbai Indians should have been IPL winners multiple times by now. Year after year, auction after auction, they have poured in the big bucks and signed the biggest names, but the prize has always eluded them. The IPL is only five seasons old, and there are more franchises that haven't won it than those that have, but the tag of free-spending underachievers has belonged to Mumbai. Three successive seasons of making the IPL knockouts and a Champions League title haven't quite been able to shake off that label. That's the price you pay for assembling so many overseas and Indian stars.
This season is no different. John Wright and Anil Kumble are the latest additions to the Mumbai management. Ricky Ponting is the newest captain. These are not merely big names. These are institutions, men whose achievements will resonate for generations to come. They have probably the biggest crowd-puller the game has ever seen, Sachin Tendulkar, whose presence guarantees sellouts at Wankhede Stadium weeks before the season begins. There is Kieron Pollard, to whom Twenty20 comes as naturally as cricket did to Garry Sobers.
Why is such a collection of superstars still without an IPL title? It is as much a reflection on the fickleness of the format as on Mumbai's inability to handle the pressure in knockout clashes. It is difficult to imagine a similar line-up going without success for so long in Tests or ODIs, although South Africa will readily dispute that when it comes to world tournaments.
For what it's worth, the South African flavour of the squad last season has given way to one that is overwhelmingly Australian, with four of the five buys in the 2013 auction coming from Ponting's country, including the million-dollar Glenn Maxwell. The Indian contingent, especially the first-choice players, is perhaps the strongest in the IPL.
When you have so much to play with, you are prone to tinker too much too soon if the results don't come - Mumbai tried 24 players, the most, last season and as many as eight opening combinations. Stability is one thing Ponting will have to strive for. The results could follow. Or then again, the knockouts could prove to be the stumbling point. Regardless, the Wankhede stands will be packed and shrieking.
Mumbai were the only bidders for Ricky Ponting in the auction. They bought him at base price and made him captain. This was probably the only way for Ponting to return to the IPL. Most other franchises have settled leadership. Ponting is making the most of what is left of his playing days following the end of a great international career in December. After the IPL, he will play in England and the West Indies. No love is lost between the former Australia captain and Indian fans, and now he is leading a franchise which has Tendulkar, Harbhajan Singh and Kumble.
Ponting's record suggests he isn't a bad Twenty20 batsman at all. He has been in fine nick; more than 900 runs in the Sheffield Shield and a decent run in the Big Bash. He was one of the longest-serving captains in international cricket, and has an overflowing trophy cabinet to back his credentials. On the face of it, it seems to be a bargain buy for a splurging franchise that has had to do with reluctant and hot-headed captains in the past.
Pollard was Mumbai's second highest wicket-taker last season, behind Lasith Malinga. Harbhajan had six wickets from 17 matches; RP Singh 10 from 11 at nearly eight runs an over. Barring Munaf Patel to an extent, there was little strike support for Malinga from the other frontline bowlers. Malinga has only four overs in a T20 game, and the others will have to do better than their 2012 showing.
Davy Jacobs, James Franklin, R Sathish, Aiden Blizzard, T Suman, Richard Levi, Herschelle Gibbs, Dwayne Smith … that is not some random wishlist for a Mumbai Indians XI, but the list of opening partners for Sachin Tendulkar over the previous two seasons. Only the pairing with Smith had some success. Phillip Hughes is the newest contender to open with Tendulkar, whose T20 strike-rate has also suffered along with his overall decline. Unless Tendulkar can script yet another revival in his batting, the onus will be on his partner to provide firepower at the top. Who will it be, or rather, how many more combinations will we see?
Big players in
Undoubtedly Ponting, although paying a million dollars for Maxwell also makes him a big signing. However, with Ponting, Pollard and Malinga likely to take three of the four overseas players' slots, it is to be seen how many games Maxwell gets. Many have pointed to his lacklustre debut Test series in India to scoff at the price Mumbai paid for him, but if reverse logic was to be applied, Pollard should have been hailed as a potential Test great by now.
Big players out
Thisara Perera, the hard-hitting Sri Lanka allrounder, was released by the franchise and bought by Sunrisers Hyderabad for $675,000 in the 2013 auction.
Under the radar
First-class batting and bowling averages of 42.03 and 25.47 suggest that Rishi Dhawan, the 23-year old from Himachal Pradesh, has the makings of a genuine allrounder. Another allrounder, Madhya Pradesh's Jalaj Saxena has been around for a while, and his batting has prospered in recent times, although the same cannot be said about his offbreaks.
If, and that is a big if, Franklin is picked in New Zealand's Test squad to tour England, he could end up missing a substantial chunk of the tournament in May.
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo