Mumbai Indians has the legacy of being the most successful franchise in the Indian Premier League, the biggest T20 league in the world.
The recipe to such effective campaigns had been diligent scouting to pick uncapped players and calculated buys which added immense value to the roster. However, after a dominant run in the preceding two years, MI stumbled in the 2021 season, narrowly missing out on a playoffs spot because of an inferior net run rate compared to Kolkata Knight Riders.
When the mega auction came calling in 2022, MI’s carefully curated strategy split at the seams. The franchise had to choose among its stalwarts, retaining Rohit Sharma, Suryakumar Yadav, Jasprit Bumrah and Kieron Pollard. This meant it had to let go off a few members of its core squad such as Hardik and Krunal Pandya, Quinton de Kock, Trent Boult and Ishan Kishan, though the last-named was bought back later for a whopping ₹15.25 crore. A greatly diminished purse resulted in a poor show for the remainder of the auction.
The 2022 season saw MI hit rock bottom when it went home with the wooden spoon. In spite of such a disappointing campaign, there was a silver lining — the discovery of Tilak Varma, a young middle-order batter who scored 397 runs (14 matches) and emerged the star in the absence of Suryakumar.
MI had a few tough calls to make during the auction preceding IPL 2023 and it did so with renewed vigour. Once again it splurged, this time on Cameron Green, buying him for a colossal ₹17.25 crore. With 452 runs and six wickets (16 games) to his credit, the Australian all-rounder justified the move and proved a suitable replacement for the retired Pollard.
Despite the 2022 debacle, MI fans awaited the 16th season with much enthusiasm as they were promised the mouth-watering combination of Bumrah and Jofra Archer. The two have been among the best pacers of their generation and to see them bowl in tandem would have been a sight to behold. However, injuries have plagued the former since mid-2022 and though the latter did make a comeback, he was but a shadow of his former self. This not only threw MI’s bowling unit into disarray, but also the balance of the side.
Not surprisingly, MI’s performance in the first two games was nothing short of shoddy. In the opening match against Royal Challengers Bangalore, Virat Kohli and Faf du Plessis effortlessly guided their side home with 22 balls to spare. Similarly, Ravindra Jadeja and Ajinkya Rahane starred for long-standing rival Chennai Super Kings as it easily breached Fort Wankhede. Skipper Rohit turned up in the third game with a classy half-century, taking MI to victory against Delhi Capitals.
The biggest disappointment of the season till the fourth match, against KKR, was Suryakumar’s form. The swashbuckling batter, ranked first in ICC’s T20I rankings, was struggling to connect the ball and was even out for a golden duck while scoring only 16 runs in three games.
For MI, the tipping point was Suryakumar’s return to form. Despite Venkatesh Iyer’s scintillating ton, Mumbai finally flaunted its batting muscle to cruise to victory in just 17.4 overs. The outfit registered its third straight win by defeating Sunrisers Hyderabad, courtesy a consummate bowling performance. Green was at the forefront with bat and ball.
The next two games — against Punjab Kings and Gujarat Titans — did not end in jubilation for MI. On both occasions, Rohit’s bowlers leaked too many runs and the batters couldn’t save the side despite a valiant effort during chases.
However, in the next game versus Rajasthan Royals where Yashasvi Jaiswal took the attack to the cleaners, the MI batters clinically gunned down a mammoth target of 213. MI charted a similar course against Kings in the return fixture.
Yet, when the team met CSK in the latter’s home ground, MI once again faltered. With only four games left in the league phase, MI had to rally its troops to earn a berth in the business end. The next two matches saw MI simply blow away RCB and GT. The momentum shifted against Lucknow Super Giants where the batters narrowly missed out on taking the team over the line. Now MI’s playoffs chances did not rely only on a victory in its last game but also on the results of other fixtures.
But Green stamped his authority with a fantastic century in pursuit of 200 posted by SRH. When RCB lost its last league game to Shubman Gill’s brilliance on a rain-addled day, MI had achieved its first target. At the halfway stage, MI had won only three out of seven games. Seven more contests later, it had qualified for the playoffs in what was one of the most competitive editions ever.
MI met LSG at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in the Eliminator. Despite losing all its three previous encounters against Super Giants, this one turned out to be a walk in the park for Mumbai. Akash Madhwal demolished the Lucknow outfit, returning stupendous figures of five for five.
The next challenge was against the defending champion, Gujarat Titans, which MI had bested twice in three games before. What ensued was a breathtaking and majestic display by Gill who exposed the inconsistent bowling attack. It was ironic that Gill, whose century knocked out RCB, eliminated MI too!
MI was in cruise mode in the first half of the chase but lost its way to fall short by a distance. Once a torch-bearer for the side, Hardik Pandya became MI’s nemesis as his men extinguished the hopes of the five-time champion.
Never write off
However, MI showed time and time again why it has been a formidable side by displaying grit, resilience and determination. From lagging at the bottom to marching up the table, MI proved that it can never be written off. There have been lessons to learn from a season of contrasts.
The batters established a record for the most 200-plus totals (six times) by a team in a single edition while the bowlers conceded the most 200-plus totals (six again!) in a season. With a dynamic and deep batting line-up, if MI gives a better shape to its bowling unit, a sixth title may not be too far away.