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Match Analysis

Frazzled Mumbai need to figure their best XI to turn their season around

As a team renowned for its batting, Mumbai are yet to impose themselves

Nagraj Gollapudi
Hunger and desperation. That was what Rohit Sharma had asked of Mumbai Indians immediately after their defeat against Kolkata Knight Riders earlier this week. It was their third straight loss, but Rohit did well in his dressing-room speech to not act desperate. More than once, he told his players there was no need to panic.
So, on Saturday, did Mumbai show that hunger, that desperation, to snatch those "little moments" that Rohit pointed out could reverse their woeful start to this IPL campaign?
How do you describe Rohit's premeditated charge against Harshal Patel, second ball after the powerplay where Mumbai had collected a healthy 49 runs, only to be deceived by a slow offcutter? What about his opening partner Ishan Kishan who, shackled by the wide off-stump line that Royal Challengers Bangalore bowlers maintained, eventually went for an upper cut despite knowing that third man was just moved for a simple catch? What about Tilak Varma's brain fade where he called for a non-existent single while attempting to take on one of the best throwing arms in cricket, in Glenn Maxwell? What about Kieron Pollard failing to read the googly, a delivery that Wanindu Hasaranga bowls for a living?
From 50 for no loss, Mumbai lost six wickets for just 29 runs in the following seven overs. On such evidence it is only fair to conclude Mumbai were desperate. Mumbai panicked.
Their frazzled state of mind became evident when Rohit said at the toss that the team had decided to field just two overseas players in the XI for the first time in the IPL. Both Tymal Mills and Daniel Sams, the two overseas fast bowlers who had played in the first three matches, were out. That probably was owing to the two-paced nature of the Pune surface. But were their two replacements - debutant Ramandeep Singh and Jaydev Unadkat - good enough to bolster the lower-order batting?
If you want to single out an area where Mumbai have malfunctioned badly, it is their batting in the middle overs (7-16). In this phase, Mumbai's run rate is 6.75, the lowest among all teams this season. Even in terms of average, Mumbai have the worst in this segment of play where the more successful teams this season, like Punjab Kings and Rajasthan Royals, have been landing the knockout punch on the opposition bowling attacks.
Rohit admitted as much in the post-match chat with host broadcaster Star Sports on Saturday, saying there were a "lot of areas" Mumbai needed to improve on, especially in their batting and he would want the batters to play deeper into the innings. Mumbai lack the batting depth of rival teams and that strategy of a key batter or two dropping anchor is not a bad one. However, Mumbai will want to have a rethink and redraw their batting order.
Suryakumar Yadav, who missed the team's opening two matches but returned to score two half-centuries in their last two matches, both in Pune, has been Mumbai's best batter. But he walked in at No. 4. Wouldn't it have been better to have Suryakumar at one-down followed by Varma, who has shown the character and the skills needed to succeed at this level?
Both Rohit and Kishan have had two 50-plus stands already but those have still not served Mumbai well. But with Suryakumar's ability to accelerate at all points in the game, both openers could play with a bit more freedom instead of being in two minds about whether to attack or be circumspect - a scenario that was on display against Royal Challengers.
As a team renowned for its batting, Mumbai are yet to impose themselves. And Suryakumar needs the support. In the past, the Pandya brothers and Pollard have manned the lower order. But following the big auction in February, only Pollard remains and he has not yet made a statement with either bat or ball. Tim David's absence from the last two matches is intriguing. Mumbai bought the hard-hitting freelancer for $1.1 million because they believe he can clear the ropes with ease with his massive reach. David failed in his first two matches, both times getting out to spin. Yet, he has been among the top players of spin since April 2019 in all T20 cricket with a strike rate of nearly 152.
Mumbai have used 15 players already in four matches, the joint second-most so far this tournament. They need to figure out their best XI soon to reverse this woeful beginning to the new season. Luckily, Mumbai have waded through such rough starts on more than one occasion in the past. In 2014, they had a run of five successive defeats before sealing a spot in the playoffs. In 2015, they began with four straight losses, but ended up winning the tournament.
So what will Rohit tell the Mumbai dressing room now? Don't panic.

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo