Two things in India never change. Amitabh Bachchan’s rather impassioned jingoistic tweets (somebody take technology away from the man), and Mumbai Indians and Delhi Daredevil’s tepid lame starts to the new domestic season.
The Mumbai Indians, led by Rohit Sharma, have consistently started slowly in the month of April every year. In 2015, they lost their first five matches, and had to win 90% of their remaining games to even stand a chance of qualifying. They did, miraculously, all too predictably. Meanwhile, every year, Delhi Daredevils either revamp their mentality or their coaching staff or their team, but somehow they contrive to find themselves in the bottom half of the table. Theirs is a dispiriting saga of bad management and terrible team selection, year after year, and even a very positive auction and selection of some fine overseas talent, the team couldn’t change their fortunes in the first match of their new season in Eden Gardens.
With the available squads at their disposal, here is what the two teams must do to avoid become also-rans within the first few weeks again.
Their 9-wicket loss to the newcomers Rising Supergiants Pune was alarming in how inevitable it felt at the Wankhede – on a ‘green’ (yes, believe that) wicket that definitely didn’t merit batting first after winning the toss.
THE BUTTLER DIDN’T DO IT:
The arrival of Joss Buttler seems to have excited the team owners so much that they have changed a proven winning line-up from 2015 to accommodate the fiery English wicketkeeper. The Chennai Super Kings became the best team in the league by sticking to the same squad, year after year, and the same core bunch of players – who became more familiar with each other than their own wives and kids at home.
MS Dhoni didn’t tinker much with their thinking and confidence, and they reached a million finals as a result. But Mumbai Indians like to make things complicated for themselves – they like to present themselves with stupid challenges, every year, and then become the underdog (which is the only position they hit back from). Buttler in the line-up means dropping regular keeper Parthiv Patel, who used to open with Lendl Simmons, and it means dropping regular overseas all-rounder Corey Anderson, who pulled off some miracles for the team last year. The entire balance seems to have changed, and no Lasith Malinga at the bottom means that Jasprit Bumrah’s mercurial inconsistency is all they can bank upon in the slog overs.
Rohit Sharma has promoted himself up to the opening slot, a position he executes with distinction with his national team. But he has always played at three or four for the Mumbai Indians, and his sudden eagerness to bat at the top on the back of a terrible World T20 tournament makes no sense. He is not in form, and there is no reason he should be facing the first few balls of a match. He must think like a leader, not a commander who wants to sacrifice himself to protect – who? Promoting the overrated Hardik Pandya to three is ridiculous, and he was exposed against the new ball by Mitchell Marsh and Ishant Sharma. Ambati Rayadu, forever the floater and bridesmaid, always ends up as the rescue act, even though he can’t quite do enough without the support of big-hitters Kieron Pollard and Sharma.
The line-up should be: Parthiv Patel, Lendl Simmons, Rohit Sharma, Ambati Rayadu, Corey Anderson, Kieron Pollard, Hardik Pandya, Harbhajan Singh, Shreyas Gopal/J. Suchith, Vinay Kumar, Tim Southee/Marchant de Lange
Having guys like Anderson and Pollard shore up the middle order, both in batting and bowling, lends crucial balance to a team that has forever mistaken big signings to be their forte. The likes of “flavor of the seasons” like Buttler, Glenn Maxwell (when he was selected), the forgotten Richard Levi and even Aaron Finch (who is now prospering for the Gujarat Lions) have never quite blossomed in the green world of the Mumbai Indians.
Zaheer Khan, who hasn’t played international cricket for a while, has been declared as the captain of this team. JP Duminy, who hasn’t recovered from injury, was the captain last year – and except for unearthing the likes of Shreyas Iyer to the world, they didn’t exactly set the stage on fire. Everyone is convinced that the Delhi of 2016 is revamped (with Rahul Dravid as their mentor, no less) and looks far better than any of the years they have competed for the ‘wooden spoon’ in. Still, come match day against Kolkata Knight Riders, the Daredevils pulled off some inane stunts.
IYER MUST OPEN
The star of last year, Shreyas Iyer, has gone from strength to strength in the Indian domestic circuit, with many calling him the next Virender Sehwag. Even the comparison is enough to suggest that he should continue in his slot as an opener, where he made a mark against bowling attacks in 2015. But Khan and Co. decided to open with Mayank Agarwal and Quinton de Kock instead, putting Iyer at three, and making it very obvious that they will bank on domestic talent with the likes of Karun Nair, Sanju Samson and Pawan Negi batting above Carlos Brathwaite and million-dollar-man Chris Morris.
BRING SHAMI IN
In order to accommodate and justify the usefulness of Zaheer Khan, Mohammad Shami, who has finally recovered from his perpetual hamstring condition, hasn’t found a place in the line-up. He should be partnering Nathan Coulter-Nile and Chris Morris upfront, before the likes of Amit Mishra, Brathwaite and Negi take over. In fact, on turning pitches like Delhi and Kolkata, Imran Tahir should be a sure-shot selection ahead of Coulter-Nile.
TRY RISHABH PANT
The U-19 star will have to break in sooner or later, and if not as a keeper, than perhaps as an untested and surprising opening batsman with Iyer at the top. He can replace either Agarwal or Nair, depending on form. Go all the way with youngsters if you’re embracing that philosophy.
The Playing XI can read: Shreyas Iyer, Quinton de Kock, Sanju Samson, JP Duminy, Rishabh Pant, Pawan Negi, Chris Morris, Imran Tahir, Mohammad Shami, Amit Mishra, Zaheer Khan
Of course, these two teams will over time find their best balance – but one hopes it isn’t too late by the time they wake up. It’s very apparent to cricket watchers that they are taking the ‘experimental’ phase too literally, in stark contrast to the free-flowing, no-pressure cricket played by the new teams in 2016.