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Match Analysis

Celebrity-driven Mumbai struggle to find their way back from the precipitous fall

They seem to have become a team driven by big names as much as by success, and results have inevitably suffered

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
From 100 yards away, the golden letters and numbers on the back of Mumbai Indians' royal-blue shirts are almost impossible to read. Perhaps that is the point: at this franchise, most players' identities are obvious from the stands of the Wankhede Stadium. If they are not, then they are not worth knowing.
No squad in the IPL is as skewed towards star power as Mumbai's. Their seven highest earners are on a combined INR 85 crore (USD 10.4 million approx), nearly 90 percent of the salary cap. Their eleven lowest earners are on INR 20 lakh (USD 24,000) each, the league's minimum wage. They have superstars and squad players, with almost nothing in between.
On Saturday night, two of those superstars were missing. It had been apparent for some time that the IPL's most successful franchise would have to make do without Jasprit Bumrah, the leader of their bowling attack, in 2023; news that Jofra Archer, their other big-name bowler, had picked up a niggle meant that their fixture against Chennai Super Kings was always likely to be a challenge.
Mumbai started brilliantly, racing to 61 for 1 after the powerplay. Rohit Sharma threw his hands at the ball when Super Kings' seamers offered him width, the capacity crowd roaring in celebration at each of his four boundaries. Akash Ambani watched on from his plush leather sofa in the stands; Sachin Tendulkar smiled in the dugout.
After Rohit was cleaned up by Tushar Deshpande, Ishan Kishan took over. He had struck three boundaries off Sisanda Magala's first four balls and then slapped down the ground for consecutive fours, his sweat-drenched forearms glistening under the floodlights. And then, as the field spread… nothing.
In the space of 16 balls, Mumbai lost four wickets for 12 runs, collapsing spectacularly against Super Kings' left-arm spinners. Mitchell Santner and Ravindra Jadeja bowled with skill and guile, varying their pace and extracting just a hint of turn. There was an unfortunate element to two of those wickets: the ball Suryakumar Yadav gloved behind was sliding some way past leg stump, while Jadeja's catch off his own bowling to remove Cameron Green was a freak dismissal.
Yet from that moment on, there was an unmistakable sense of inevitability around Mumbai's defeat. For the second game in a row, they were a long way short with the bat, scraping up to a total of 157. Shorn of their two star bowlers, their attack never stood a chance of defending it, even against a Super Kings batting line-up missing Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali through injury and illness respectively.
It is worth dwelling on the make-up of that attack. Mumbai opened the bowling with two left-arm seamers: one of them made his professional T20 debut last weekend, aged 25; the other was traded from Royal Challengers Bangalore during the off-season. Their change seamer has taken six wickets in his T20 career. Their two fingerspinners are base-price rookies. Their frontline legspinner is a 34-year-old, who went unsold last season even as two new teams were added to the league.
Mumbai were taken to pieces in the powerplay, not by Ruturaj Gaikwad or Devon Conway but by Ajinkya Rahane. Rahane is a stylish batter with international pedigree, but went into this game having made nine appearances across the past two IPL seasons, only once passing 30. As he took Arshad to pieces, plundering 23 runs from his second over, Rahane exposed Mumbai's attack for what it was.
Two games into the season, Mumbai are in a mess. They have overcome bad starts before, and the nature of this format is that if a couple of their big names find form simultaneously, they could go on a winning streak that takes them into the play-offs and beyond. But it is harder than it has been previously to see that happening.
If this fixture really is Indian cricket's answer to El Clásico, the meeting of its biggest and best clubs, then Mumbai are in their galácticos era, signing the biggest names in the sport simply to prove that they can, just as Real Madrid did soon after the turn of the century.
It is a phase unwittingly personified by Green, who was signed for INR 17.5 crore at December's auction and has now been thrown into the IPL with huge expectations on him. The only previous time he has played a full season was as a 20-year-old, when he averaged 15 and didn't bowl a ball for Perth Scorchers.
Green is a phenomenal talent, who will doubtless dominate at international level for years to come - but was he really the player Mumbai needed? His two innings of note in this format were as an opener, where Mumbai already have an established pair; with the ball, he is being asked to learn on the job.
Ahead of the auction, Mumbai needed domestic bowlers to complement Archer and Bumrah; in their absence, they need them even more now. Ignoring that obvious hole in their squad to throw their money at Green was like adding another layer of gold paint to a Bentley without an engine.
More pertinently, it was a signing that would not have been countenanced by the Mumbai of old; a franchise that almost never overpaid for a player, who stuck to a clear set of principles in constructing a balanced squad with depth in every area. Somewhere along the way, they seem to have become a team driven by celebrity as much by success. Results, inevitably, have suffered.
Three seasons ago, Mumbai strolled effortlessly to a second consecutive title and their third in four years with a side so strong that it was hard to see how they would ever fade. On Saturday night, they lost for the 12th time in their last 16 games. There is still time for them to climb back to those old heights this season, but it has been a precipitous fall.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98