The Mumbai Indians are the richest and most successful side in IPL history with five titles to their name, but they currently sit at the bottom of the table after losing their first five games this season.
Their dire start in the world’s most valuable cricket competition – despite being owned by Nita Ambani, wife of India’s richest man Reliance Industries billionaire Mukesh Ambani, and being led by national team captain Rohit Sharma – already means they face not making the playoffs.
They even enjoy the bonus of being the only side in the tournament with home advantage. The coronavirus pandemic forced organisers to limit league matches in the IPL’s 15th edition to just two venues, Mumbai and Pune, with the latter not having its own team.
Pundits say the Ambani billions have been badly deployed, with poor purchases at the player auction ahead of the T20 tournament and selections that have not paid off.
Mumbai paid nearly $2 million to buy back wicketkeeper-batsman Ishan Kishan, who started the season with two half-centuries but followed up with scores of 14, 26 and three.
The team’s move to buy England’s Jofra Archer at $1.06 million also copped criticism, with the pace bowler unavailable this season due to an elbow injury.
“Those who followed their confused, flawed strategy at the auction table a couple of months back would not be surprised that MI are lying at the bottom of the 10-team table with zero points,” The Times of India newspaper said on Friday.
Old warhorses, including captain Rohit, who made 28 in their most recent defeat to the Punjab Kings on Wednesday, and West Indies big-hitter Kieron Pollard have struggled to convert starts into bigger scores.
Pundits believe the move to drop Singapore batsman Tim David – known for his big hitting – from the XI after the first two losses has also hurt the team’s batting.
“You need X-factors in this tournament,” former Mumbai player Chris Lynn told ESPNcricinfo. “Also your experienced players need to stand up in these situations.”
The slump is raising questions over Rohit’s position as captain, just two months after being named all-format skipper for the Indian national side.
Former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar told ESPNcricinfo that he felt Sharma could step down to “relax a bit, play as a pure batter and hand the responsibility to Pollard who is a brilliant international captain”.
Mumbai became a force to reckon with after Rohit succeeded Australian great Ricky Ponting as the team captain, leading them to titles every other year between 2013 and 2019, as well as a successful championship defence in 2020.
Mumbai boast a stellar support staff line-up, with Indian batting great Sachin Tendulkar as team mentor, Sri Lankan star Mahela Jayawardene as coach and former pace ace Zaheer Khan as director of cricket.
“We’ve been not playing good cricket for a while and that is why we are on the losing side,” Jayawardene said after the defeat to the Punjab Kings. “We just got to go back and understand … and come back collectively as a group.”
There is a precedent for a recovery: they made a similarly poor start in 2015, losing five of their opening six matches, but came back to win it all.
And batsman Suryakumar Yadav insisted there was no alarm in the camp ahead of their next game against the Lucknow Super Giants on Saturday.
“We are playing some good cricket from game one and there is no question of panicking for a team like MI,” said Suryakumar, who scored 52, 68* and 43 in the three games he played after returning from injury. “If we just keep doing it we will eventually get our first win.”
But even some of their most avid fans are beginning to lose hope. Posting on Twitter, one urged captain Sharma to “keep on smiling, we can’t see you sad”.
“Doesn’t matter if you don’t qualify this year,” they added. “The worst case, if we come last also it doesn’t matter.”
© Agence France-Presse