When Mumbai Indians' campaign was starting just about a week ago, their main weakness was being seen as the lack of a standout spin-bowling option. Two matches later, their flaw has already shifted for two reasons. First, the emergence of 20-year-old legspinner Mayank Markande. Second, the way Mumbai lost both their matches - by one wicket in the dying moments while defending totals against Chennai Super Kings and Sunrisers Hyderabad.
The point of debate in the bowling attack for Mumbai has now turned from the lead spinner to their third seamer. Even though Mumbai lost both matches in contrasting fashions, at one point they had had the upper hand in both matches.
While defending 165 in the tournament opener at home, Mumbai had reduced Super Kings to 119 for 8 after 17 overs and the visitors needed to score another 47 runs. Only Jasprit Bumrah, Mustafizur Rahman and Mitchell McClenaghan were left with one over each as Hardik Pandya and Markande had been bowled out. Then, captain Rohit Sharma had to decide when to bowl McClenaghan - who had conceded 24 off his three overs - since Bumrah and Mustafizur have a much better record in the slog overs. With a steep asking rate and Dwayne Bravo the main batsman left for Super Kings, Rohit decided to finish McClenaghan's quota first.
That move changed the match. Bravo slammed 19 runs on his own off McClenaghan in the 18th over and brought the equation down to a more gettable 27 from 12. The pressure was on Bumrah and Mustafizur now. Bravo went on to slam two more sixes, off Bumrah, before Kedar Jadhav finished the match with one ball left.
Coach Mahela Jayawardene was "not surprised" by Bravo's hitting but he admitted they "bowled well until the last three overs". But it was McClenaghan's over that would have made Super Kings believe they were still in the match.
On Thursday night in Hyderabad, Mumbai were defending only 147 and the hosts were cruising with only 15 to get from the last three with five wickets in hand. Again, Rohit had one over each from Bumrah, Mustafizur and Ben Cutting, who had replaced McClenaghan. The match was in Sunrisers' favour on this occasion and Rohit decided to finish Bumrah and Mustafizur first and save Cutting for the 20th over, if it was required.
The 18th over proved to be almost match-turning again. Bumrah and Mustafizur struck twice each and conceded only four runs in their two overs together. Sunrisers needed 11 from the last over, with only one wicket in hand and only one recognised batsman still there - Deepak Hooda. Cutting had the ball.
Coming around the wicket - even though Bumrah's same strategy had not worked against Bravo in the first match - Cutting sent down a full toss first ball and Hooda smacked it for six. Second ball, Cutting lost his line completely and bowled a wide well outside the off stump. The pressure was showing. A dot ball, three singles and lots of discussions later, the scores were level and No. 11 Billy Stanlake was on strike. The field was brought in, and before the bowler ran in wicketkeeper Ishan Kishan threw his right glove off like his Jharkhand senior MS Dhoni, at the ready to cut off the single. Cutting came in from over the wicket to left-hand bat Stanlake and gave him a full delivery which wasn't tough to loft over the in-field. So close, yet on the losing side. Again.
Bowling coach Shane Bond later said he had hopes until the last ball was bowled but admitted they "weren't quite good enough".
If Mumbai want to pick their third seamer for Saturday on the basis of numbers, they will have to choose between the death-over economy rate of 9.41 for McClenaghan and 10.50 for Cutting. And seeing the trend in the tournament so far, if Delhi Daredevils win the toss, they may want to chase down a total too. They have in their line-up power hitters such as Colin Munro, Glenn Maxwell, Rishabh Pant and Chris Morris. If even one of them stays till the end, whether Daredevils bat first or second, Mumbai will need a third seamer for the slog overs who can stem the flow of runs and share the pressure with Bumrah and Mustafizur, if not take it off them.