New Delhi: The talent pool in the Mumbai Indians squad has never been in doubt since the Reliance Industries-owned franchise became the most expensive ahead of the inaugural season in 2008, valued at $111.9 million. But that money spent on some huge international and Indian talent has not translated into IPL success - in terms of grasping the elusive trophy, that is.
In 2008 the team finished fifth out of eight; in 2009 they went worse, ending up second from last; in 2010 they surged to the final but ended up runners-up; then they finished third and fourth in the 2011 and 2012 editions respectively. Clearly, their performance is not in line with their strength both in batting and bowling.
But between the fifth and sixth seasons of the IPL, Mumbai's brains trust made several significant changes. Two weeks before the 2013 auction, they roped in former India captain Anil Kumble as team mentor, replacing former South Africa skipper Shaun Pollock. Days later, Mumbai announced that former New Zealand batsman John Wright was the new head coach.
A day before the February 3 auction, it was reported that Sachin Tendulkar had returned to the captaincy, which appeared to have quelled speculation that Mumbai would chase Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke in Chennai on pay day. But then, at the auction, they spent big on several notable Australian acquisitions: $1 million was splurged on the allrounder Glenn Maxwell, $450,000 on little known Western Australia fast bowler Nathan Coulter-Nile, $100,000 on batsman Phillip Hughes, and Ponting for his base price of $400,000. On February 21, it was announced that Ponting would lead Mumbai in IPL 6 ahead. The Kumble-Wright combination had made its first tactical decision.
Clearly there is a strategy in place. Mumbai want to finally win the IPL and the changes made in the off-season point to a shift in thinking. In Ponting, Tendulkar, Kumble and Wright the franchise has four individuals with immense on and off-field tactical nous, aside from the obvious skill that Tendulkar and Ponting bring with the bat. Kumble is India's highest wicket-taker in Tests and ODIs and has been associated with the IPL as player and later in a similar mentorship role with Royal Challengers Bangalore. Wright, 58, brings to the table the experience of 82 Tests and 149 ODIs as a batsman, as well as coaching experience having overseen India from 2000 to 2005 and New Zealand from 2010 to 2012. There is no shortage of knowledge and tact in Kumble and Wright.
Kumble comes on board in a big role and how he functions with Tendulkar and Ponting will be interesting to see. If the trio clicks, and Wright manages to oversee their relationship with his inputs, Mumbai have a quarter that is capable of transforming the team. Add in Robin Singh and Jonty Rhodes and their weight of knowledge and IPL experience, and Mumbai have the greatest support staff in the league.
Wright played a big role in shaping India from a team of contenders overseas to winners overseas. He may be new to the IPL but his reading of the game is outstanding. Wright fits Mumbai's apparent need - to take a superbly talented team of cricketers and instruct, lead and guide them to a winning formula consistently. How Wright works with the franchise's domestic pool talent could also prove crucial, considering his extracting of talent with lesser-known India players when he coached the national team.
Ponting, back in the IPL after four years and in outstanding first-class form following his international retirement, could be the fillip that Mumbai need. A lack of killer instinct has been a problem for Mumbai in the past, but the arrival of Ponting could change that. Tendulkar, relieved of the captaincy and potentially looking at a proven performer at the other end when he opens for Mumbai, could turn in the defining season of his IPL career. How Maxwell performs is also a major aspect of Mumbai's progress to follow in 2013. And if the likes of Coulter-Nile get playing time, Mumbai's bowling attack will be even stronger.
Big changes indeed, but will they result in big changes on the field? Keep an eye on Mumbai Indians this season; they promise to make for interesting viewing.
Do you think Mumbai have made the necessary changes to win the IPL?