Each player’s role is clearly defined, specialists retained or hired with specific tasks in mind
Mumbai Indians’ assembly of talent for IPL-7 leans towards the thinking that while Twenty20 is considered a young man’s game, experienced hands add value to the squad and can even be match-winners in the right mix.
Michael Hussey and Zaheer Khan belong to that category, mentors capable of turning a match around on their day.
The Aussie opener has a huge appetite for runs and knows enough about batting to tutor skilled players on run-making in match situations. The highest run-getter of the sixth edition (733 in 17 games at an average of 52.35), Hussey comes across as a stabilising influence at the crease with risk-free batting, apart from stroking boundaries at will.
Zaheer will be looked upon as a sort of bowling captain in MI, teaching younger teammates about being effective within the four-over restriction. A highly-rated bowler in world cricket, his inputs in fine-tuning plans for specific opponents makes the left-armer more valuable than the 2.6 crore paid in the auction to secure his services.
As a matter of fact, 2013 was the turnaround season after five years were spent buying more players than required in the hope of hitting upon the winning formula. With the IPL title in hand, and consolidation as the way forward, the champion team sports a settled look under the guidance of coach John Wright and chief mentor Anil Kumble.
Rohit Sharma, Harbhajan Singh, Lasith Malinga, Kieron Pollard and Ambati Rayudu were retained. Pragyan Ojha, initially released, was brought back using the ‘Right to Match’ option. Rohit (retained as expected) is expected to be the catalyst for success, tapping into the experience of seniors Hussey and Zaheer.
Each one’s role is clearly defined, specialists retained or hired with specific tasks in mind...Hussey and Rohit as batting anchors, Malinga and Zaheer the bowling spearheads. Harbhajan and Ojha in charge of the spin department.
Pollard comes into the squad as the floater, capable of tilting the balance with massive blows into the stands, a sensational catch, or some tight overs.
New Zealand all-rounder Corey Anderson is an exciting option as a hard-hitter and handy bowler.
West Indies paceman Krishmar Santokie put batsmen into awkward positions in the World T20 with some effective yorkers and movement in the air.
A clutch of youngsters are waiting in the wings: fast-medium bowler Jasprit Bumrah, leg-spinner Shreyas Gopal (both 20 years), Aussie pace prospect Josh Hazlewood (23) will try to impress and catch eyeballs.
Sachin Tendulkar’s absence will reduce the buzz in the stands wherever MI is playing. The maestro has such an aura that youngsters in the dressing room can benefit from his presence as a icon-motivator.
Hussey has been drafted in to take over the opener’s role from the maestro, while captain Rohit does not allow responsibility to curb his batting instincts.
For MI, the pressure to perform as a champion team will not go away. Without Tendulkar to inspire, the winning habit will need to be imbibed again, match by match.
The squad: Rohit Sharma (captain), Corey Anderson, Jasprit Bumrah, Marchant de Lange, Ben Dunk, C. Gautam, Shreyas Gopal, Harbhajan Singh, Josh Hazlewood, Michael Hussey, Zaheer Khan, Lasith Malinga, Sushant Marathe, Pragyan Ojha, Kieron Pollard, Ambati Rayudu, Krishmar Santokie, Jalaj Saxena, Pawan Sanyal, Aditya Tare, and Apoorv Wankhade.
BEST FINISHES: Winner: 2013; Play-off, qualifier 2: 2011; Play-off, eliminator: 2012; Finalist: 2010
WIN-LOSS RECORD: Played 95, won 56, loss 39
TOP PERFORMERS: Leading Run-Getter: Sachin Tendulkar (78 matches, 2334 runs); Highest Wicket Taker: Lasith Malinga (73 matches, 103 wkts)
WATCH OUT FOR
It’s not Lasith Malinga’s funky hairstyle that unnerves batsmen, but his trademark in-swinging and toe-crushing yorkers delivered with whiplash sidearm action. The Malinga specials have given a new dimension to T20 bowling, just like the way Shaun Pollock startled batsmen with the slow bouncer in the earlier editions of the IPL.
The Sri Lankan has always revelled on the ‘surprise’ element. Each ball speared in by his right arm is primed to put pressure on the batsmen. Already the highest wicket-taker in the IPL with 103 scalps — the only bowler to have crossed the three-figure mark — he must be raring to mark his long run-up, bound towards the bowling crease and send down screaming yorker-length deliveries in IPL-7. Malinga took 18, 15, 28, 22 and 20 wickets from the second season of IPL.