On paper, MI come across as the most balanced outfit but could face a problem if the uncapped players fail to live up to the expectations. (BCCI Images)
The reigning Indian Premier League (IPL) and Champions League Twenty20 (CLT20) title-holders, Mumbai Indians, will once again be one of the favourites in the seventh edition of cash-rich IPL, though the striking difference between MI of previous six editions and MI of IPL 7 will be the absence of legendary Sachin Tendulkar.
Tendulkar hung up his MI boots after Mumbai completed the double of IPL and CLT20 triumphs last year, after which the master batsman bid adieu to Test cricket as well in November 2013. But the MI dugout will not miss him as Tendulkar will make his debut as an 'ICON' after the franchise recalled him in that capacity for IPL 7.
MI retained skipper Rohit Sharma, Harbhajan Singh, Lasith Malinga, Kieron Pollard and Ambati Rayudu from their previous squad, thus keeping the nucleus of their side intact, though leaving out Mitchell Johnson did raise a few eyebrows.
At the auction, retired Australian batsman Michael Hussey and New Zealand allrounder Corey Anderson were the two big fishes netted by MI, paying Rs. 5 crore for the former and Rs 4.5 crore for latter.
Here's how the side appears on paper:
Mumbai possess a perfect mixture of youth and experience and that has been the key to their success in the past. This year as well the side looks pretty well balanced in all departments.
As far as batting is concerned, MI have a solid line-up with Rohit, Hussey, Ambati Rayudu and hard-hitting combo of Anderson and Kieron Pollard. And the team has probably the most potent bowling attacks among the eight teams. While Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha bring both experience and variety to the attack, Lasith Malinga and Zaheer Khan lend the same quality to the pace attack.
The Mumbai bench may find itself a little thin when it comes to quality domestic talent on the bench. Besides Aditya Tare, Jalaj Saxena and CM Gautam, none of the other names appear threatening enough to make an impact, though T20 cricket can surprise the best of experts.
Another worry for MI may be the fitness of Pollard and Anderson as both will be making a return from injuries. While Pollard wasn't part of the West Indies squad at ICC World Twenty20, Anderson was ruled out of the tournament midway.
Rohit Sharma: Rohit tends to reserve his best for the IPL, though he has also turned his international career around with some consistent performances, especially in limited-overs cricket. The Mumbaikar's performance at the recently concluded World T20, where he amassed 200 runs in six matches at an average of 40, will surely boost MI's chances in the IPL.
Lasith Malinga: There's little left to be told about Malinga's exploits with the ball and ability to delivery yorkers at will. One of the most feared fast bowlers in modern-day cricket and IPL's leading wicket-taker with 103 wickets, the 'Slinga Malinga' was one of the five players retained by MI ahead of the auction. In the absence of Johnson, who was instrumental to Mumbai's success last year, Malinga's role as the fast-bowling spearhead becomes even more important.
Michael Hussey: Mr. Cricket may have retired but playing for Chennai Super Kings (CSK) last year he showed that he is far from over. Hussey will be one of the most experienced players in the Mumbai dugout this year with no Tendulkar or Ricky Ponting there. He will surely be opening the batting for the defendig champions this season and the team management will be hoping that the Aussie brings his success with CSK to Mumbai.
Corey Anderson: The swashbuckling Kiwi batsman grabbed eyeballs after breaking the world record for the fastest ODI century soon after bursting onto the international scene last year, which made him one of the most sought after players at this year's players' auction. However, speculations surround his IPL debut as he left World T20 midway injuring his right little finger. But news is that he has fully recovered to be fit for Mumbai's opening game against Kolkata Knight Riders on April 16.
2008: With seven wins and an equal number of defeats, MI finished fifth on the points table, missing out on a semi-final spot by just one point.
2009: Another average performance saw MI winning only five of their 14 matches, finishing seventh on the leaderboard.
2010: The team turned it around to reach the final but fell at the final hurdle, losing the summit clash to Chennai Super Kings by 22 runs.
2011: MI's run in the fourth edition ended in the second Qualifier, where they lost to Royal Challengers Bangalore by 43 runs.
2012: Mumbai managed to qualify for the Eliminator after winning 10 of their 16 league games but were knocked out by CSK, who won by 38 runs.
2013: MI beat Chennai Super Kings in the final by 23 runs to win their maiden IPL trophy.
Chances this year: On paper, MI come across as the most balanced outfit, but they could face a problem if the uncapped players fail to live up to the expectations.
Squad: Rohit Sharma, Harbhajan Singh, Ambati Rayudu, Kieron Pollard, Lasith Malinga, Michael Hussey, Corey Anderson, Pragyan Ojha, Zaheer Khan, Aditya Tare, Jasprit Bumrah, Jalaj Saxena, Josh Hazlewood, Krishmar Santokie, Marchant de Lange, Ben Dunk, CM Gautam, Pawan Suyal, Apoorv Vijay Wankhede, Sushant Marathe, Shreyas Gopal