Rohit pleased to find winning combo after early experimentation
Mumbai Indians have now achieved their best start to an IPL season since 2013 by virtue of their six-wicket win over Royal Challengers Bangalore. Strange as it may sound - especially as the current start is two wins from five games - Mumbai have got down to fixing their image of last-minute crammers early in the piece.
It took them only three innings to figure out that the experiment to bat Hardik Pandya at No. 3 wasn't working, and Ambati Rayudu was handed a promotion. The returns were instant as Rayudu grinded out a 49-ball 54 on Monday against Sunrisers Hyderabad to rescue his team, before contributing 31 off 23 in a 76-run second-wicket partnership with captain Rohit Sharma on Wednesday as Mumbai chased down a target of 171 against Royal Challengers.
Add to this Krunal Pandya's consistency along with Kieron Pollard's return to form via a quickfire finishing touch and Mumbai seem to have found their sweet spot earlier than usual. Rohit credited Mumbai's scouting team with identifying the right players for different situations, and said it was better to try out different combinations at the start of the tournament than in the latter half.
"With so much international cricket we play, we actually don't get to see a lot of the domestic players. We've got lot of scouters who scout people, see how they perform and what their capabilities are," Rohit said. "For us this year it has been a little tough because we got lot of players from the auction and we bought lot of players from the transfer window as well. Luckily we've got a great management who keep giving inputs as to how we can fit certain guys into the team.
"It's important to give [young players] the confidence at the start of the tournament and they need to know they've got the luxury of playing a lot of games. When you go into the second half, it becomes a very crucial period where you have to win every game and you can't change much. I think we've got a nice and balanced squad right now and hopefully they can continue to play for a longer period of time and perform the way they need to."
Coach Ricky Ponting had suggested on the eve of the match that Rohit might continue batting in the middle order after he dropped down to No. 4 to accommodate Martin Guptill at the top against Sunrisers. Instead, Rohit opened the batting Wednesday night and smashed 62 off 44 balls to set up the chase. He confirmed that he would "more or less continue to open" for the rest of the tournament.
"As far as our batting is concerned it looks more settled with Rayudu batting at three and myself batting at the top of the order," Rohit said. "We wanted Pollard to get back into form as quickly as possible and today was the perfect day for him."
"That particular change [Rohit batting at No.4] was only for that particular game because we wanted some experience in the middle [of the order]. At the end of the day everything boils down to the balance of the squad. Unfortunately for us, last game we missed Pollard because he had food poisoning and we had to get someone in. We've seen what Martin Guptill has done over the years and currently being in such a great form, we wanted to get him in the squad and see what he can do. Unfortunately the tournament is such that we can play only four overseas players."
Rohit said Mumbai would continue to persist with the five-bowler strategy, especially with the assistance for fast bowlers early on at the Wankhede. Mumbai Indians, however, will play only one more game at the venue, on April 28 against Kolkata Knight Riders, following the Bombay High Court's order that the IPL games be moved out of Maharashtra in May owing to severe drought in the state.
"Mumbai Indians has always had this theory of playing two [overseas] seamers and two foreign batters. That theory has worked for us over the years," Rohit said. "The last game almost won having only 140 to defend. People think it is a batsman's game, but I feel bowlers will put you in that position of winning the games most of the time.
"So, we have always believed that two overseas bowlers will always be helpful on a wicket like Wankhede, where there is something for the bowlers initially. We saw that - [Tim] Southee was swinging the ball really well, Mitch [McClenaghan] got it to bounce to the batsman. When you play five bowlers, as a captain you have the luxury of tinkering with your attack."
Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. @scarletrun