Rayudu likely to remain at No. 3 - Ponting
Mumbai Indians coach Ricky Ponting has said it is likely that Ambati Rayudu will continue to bat at No. 3 for the rest of the tournament. Rayudu had scored a half-century when he was promoted in their last game, against Sunrisers Hyderabad on Monday.
Rayudu mended an early mini-collapse in Hyderabad with his 49-ball 54 to give Mumbai a respectable total batting first. He is no stranger to the No. 3 slot having scored 947 runs from the 35 matches he has played at that position for Mumbai, across several seasons of the IPL and the Champions League T20.
Ponting conceded the team management had experimented with Hardik Pandya in the absence of a specialist No. 3 batsman. Hardik came into bat in the second over on two of the three chances he got at No. 3, and managed scores of only 9 and 2. "The problem with our line-up in the last few games, especially with Rohit [Sharma] deciding to open the batting, we didn't really have a specialist No. 3 batsman," Ponting said on the eve of their game against Royal Challengers Bangalore at the Wankhede Stadium.
"Even international players like [Kieron] Pollard or [Jos] Buttler…we wanted them to bat in a position where they are accustomed to. Buttler bats at No. 5 for England and Pollard usually bats at No. 5 or 6 for his country.
"Rayudu also has excelled when he has batted at No. 6. He has won games while batting for us there. So we didn't want to shake that up and we gave Hardik a chance at No. 3. In his domestic career, he has batted at the top of the order. But I guess it is fair to say that the experiment to push Pandya at three didn't work for us. Rayudu played well in the last game and it is likely that he will remain at three."
Ponting also indicated that Rohit, who moved down to No. 4 against Sunrisers, would probably continue in the middle order to accommodate Martin Guptill at the top, but also said nothing was cast in stone. "The beauty of Rohit Sharma in this team is that he is willing to do whatever he feels is right for the team. We decided last night to make the change and bring in Martin Guptill so Rohit slipped down the order," Ponting said.
"But, he as captain also made it really clear at the start of this tournament that we will pick teams for certain conditions and certain oppositions. Is he going to stay at No. 4? I don't know what he's thinking about that - if he is going to stay there for the entire tournament. And who knows, it might take only another injury - [example] Guptill to get injured then Rohit has to find himself going back to the top of the order - so you never know what is going to happen with that one."
Ponting confirmed that Pollard was fit after he missed the Sunrisers match with food poisoning. Pollard had a long bowl in the nets at Mumbai's optional practice, but Ponting hinted he might have to miss out as Mumbai intended to give Buttler and Guptill a longer run.
"Guptill has played only one game. Buttler was out early in the first game but played a match-winning innings in the second game [against Kolkata Knight Riders]. I think he was unlucky to get out in the last two games. He is a match-winner. We have seen in the T20 World Cup and we will definitely stick with Buttler for a while."
Mumbai have also struggled with the balance of their side, especially in the lower middle order, having used Vinay Kumar, J Suchith and Shreyas Gopal before settling in on Krunal Pandya, who impressed in his first two games. Ponting admitted that such tinkering was a possible reason for the team's slow start in the last two seasons. "If you look back to the last half of last season when we were winning a number of games in a row, we didn't really change the combination much at all," he said.
"A lot of it [changes] has been forced as well with the way we've tinkered and made changes for this tournament so far, but ideally as a coach and captain you don't want to be making many changes. You want all your guys fit and available for selection, and when you pick them, hopefully the role that you give them to play, they play that for you. But if they can't play that role then you got to look at other guys."
Ponting said Mumbai's batting had not been good enough and that it prevented them from dominating games from the outset. "We have been disappointing so far," he said. "We haven't played to the level that the team would like to."
"Things haven't sort of gone according to plan for us so far. Lendl [Simmons] being ruled out of the tournament…he has been our leading run-scorer in the last two IPLs. [Lasith] Malinga - if he is not the best T20 bowler that there has ever been, he will be very, very close to being that. Obviously, he is ruled out of the tournament as well. That's a big loss. Even having Pollard coming into the tournament on the back of a knee reconstruction and after having not played much cricket for four or five months as well meant that he has been a little underdone at the start of the tournament.
"All those things are factors, I guess, but we don't use those as reasons. I think our bowling has been pretty good right through the tournament to tell the truth. [Tim] Southee was outstanding the last time, [Mitchell] McClenaghan has been outstanding in a few of his games and [Jasprit] Bumrah has been good. So the bowling has been good enough but we just haven't made enough runs yet."
Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. @scarletrun