Mumbai's IPL struggle April 28, 2008

Tactical failure


Harbhajan Singh, Mumbai's stand-in captain for the first four games, let the advantage slip at the toss, twice (file photo) © AFP
 

If today Mumbai are embarrassed to find themselves scraping the bottom of the IPL barrel they have no one but themselves to blame. If they faltered during the bidding process - for example, forsaking local boy Wasim Jaffer for Ashwell Prince - equally baffling was the decision to pick a coaching staff that has only Lalchand Rajput with any international credentials. Sameer Dighe, Atul Bedade and Subroto Banerjee have played international cricket but would agree they still are novices when it comes to coaching at the highest level.

It can be seen in the team's limitations on the field. Mumbai are yet to win a game in four attempts so far. Not one of the Mumbai batsmen has recorded even a half-century (the highest so far has been Robin Uthappa's 48 against Bangalore Royal Challengers in Mumbai). No wonder no Mumbai name features in the top-five run-getters so far in the tournament. And apart from Harbhajan's 3 for 32 against Kings XI Punjab no other Mumbai bowler has had a telling impact on the opposition.

Martin Crowe, who was famous for being innovative during his tenure as the New Zealand captain, and now with the Bangalore team, said Twenty20 is all about tactics. Sadly, Mumbai have displayed none of that, thereby increasing their strife.

Despite the constant failure of their opening pair of Sanath Jayasuriya and Luke Ronchi - 15 is the highest opening partnership - Mumbai have persisted with the duo. In Twenty20 cricket, flexibility in not uncommon. Dwayne Bravo, Uthappa and Abhishek Nayar, their three most reliable batsmen, have all shown aggressive intent, with the first two having opened in ODIs, but the think-tank is reluctant to shuffle the batting order.

John Buchanan, coach of the Kolkata Knight Riders, Mumbai's opponents on Tuesday, felt it was relatively too early to work out the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition, but said "the top sides have shown the tendency to have a strong top-order batting and also have bowlers strike fast".

Buchanan said Mumbai have lagged on that front. "When you look at Mumbai they are lacking at the top of the order. Jayasuriya hasn't really got going and he is definitely a key player. And in terms of the strike bowling capacity, possibly, Shaun Pollock and Ashish Nehra haven't fulfilled the expectations".

Pollock, the stand-in captain on Sunday, said his team lacked the attacking instincts that would provide the thrust. "We are not firing yet and once we do that we will get the inspiration", Pollock said minutes after Adam Gilchrist's whirlwind century had floored Mumbai on Sunday.

Successful teams have been boosted by the fire power of the top-order batsmen or the top bowlers. Instead whenever Mumbai have batted first they have failed to raise the total anywhere in the vicinity of the 200-mark, which is now the par score on the flat wickets here. The two times they batted first they set 166 and 155 as targets. It didn't help the team's cause when Harbhajan Singh won the toss twice and both times put the opposition in when the thumb rule is: win the toss, bat first.

The team's performance also exposed the flaws in their selection policies. Jaffer, a Mumbai lad, was bought by Bangalore for just $150,000 while Mumbai picked up the South African pair of Prince and Loots Bosman for $175,000 each. Even if critics might point out Jaffer's limitations as a Twenty20 player, what's puzzling is that Sachin Tendulkar didn't stress on recruiting local players like Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar and Rohit Sharma, who were all allowed to be snapped by rival franchises.

It's also strange why Bosman wasn't picked for their previous game against Deccan Chargers, despite him arriving on time for the match from South Africa. Bosman has established a reputation for himself as an explosive batsman at the Twenty20 competition in South Africa.

It is not too late for Mumbai, with ten more games to go, as Pollock said there was no need to push the panic button yet. "We have worked out if we go on to win seven games we still are favourites to end up as the fourth semi-finalist", Pollock said. Buchanan agrees too, and felt the nature of the game is such that fortunes can swing either way. According the former Australian coach, teams will soon work out the winning methods.

For Mumbai to start wining they need Tendulkar fit and playing, especially in these difficult times when they know one of their senior players has been banned. Shane Warne has proved that inspiration can make a player believe in his abilities and forget about pressure. Rajasthan Royals' success has been the story of the IPL so far, after being labeled as the weakest franchise before the tournament began.

Mukesh Ambani, the richest Indian and one of the top-20 billionaires in the world wouldn't have put his money on Mumbai Indians without giving it a thought. But before he enters the dressing room the team needs to work out a winning script soon.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo