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IPL 2022: The fall of Mumbai Indians and the rise of Umran Malik

MI's virtual elimination midway into the season is as much of a stunner as the 150 kmph rockets from newbie Kashmiri speedster Umran Malik



Rohit Sharma's lean patch has also compounded Mumbai Indians misery. (BCCI)
Rohit Sharma's lean patch has also compounded Mumbai Indians misery. (BCCI)

By Sumit Chakraberty

Published: Fri 29 Apr 2022, 6:43 PM

How does the most successful franchise in the Indian Premier League, Mumbai Indians, go from winning five titles in the last nine seasons to losing their first eight games in a row this season, the worst performance by any team in IPL history?

That’s the IPL for you. If you take the league for granted, your fall can be precipitous, however rich and successful you may be.

Before the season began, the MI auction team was smiling like a Cheshire cat after getting the two players they wanted the most. “If someone had told us that we would walk out of the auction with Ishan Kishan and Jofra Archer, I wouldn’t have believed it,” said MI’s owner, Akash Ambani, son of Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani.

Those two MI acquisitions came at too high a cost, however, and defied the logic of the IPL auction system. Every franchise has a limited purse for the auction, which has to be deployed wisely to build a balanced team. This aims to ensure that all teams are well-matched with varying strengths and weaknesses, making for a highly competitive league.

MI chose to retain four players, the maximum number allowed, for Rs 420 million, leaving Rs 480 million in the purse for the auction. Out of that, they splurged Rs 315 million on three players — Ishan Kishan (Rs 152.5 million), Archer (Rs 80 million), and Tim David (Rs 82.5 million) — leaving only Rs 165 million for the rest of their 25-member squad.

Ishan Kishan's vulnerability as an opener on tracks helpful to pacers got exposed again. (BCCI)
Ishan Kishan's vulnerability as an opener on tracks helpful to pacers got exposed again. (BCCI)

Kishan, the most expensive buy at the auction, had a poor run last season except for two swashbuckling fifties at the end. So it was a big bet on the hard-hitting wicketkeeper-batsman coming good this season. But his vulnerability as an opener on tracks helpful to pacers got exposed again, with a string of six failures after two promising fifties at the start.

Singaporean cricketer Tim David, picked as a complement to the big-hitting West Indian, Kieron Pollard, was another overpriced acquisition, given his track record. He had played one IPL game previously, in which he failed. This season he has played two games and made 13 runs.

Lastly, England fast bowler Archer has been out of action with an elbow injury since March last year and will only be available in the next two seasons. MI still shelled out Rs 80 million for him, determined to see Bumrah and Archer bowling in tandem sometime in the future.

MI’s apparent hubris in going for these acquisitions no matter what has bitten the franchise hard. The team has gaping holes. There’s no international batsman of note to support MI’s top three Indian batsmen. Pollard’s recent decline and skipper Rohit Sharma’s lean patch don’t help. Suryakumar Yadav regaining his touch after a poor 2021 season and 19-year-old Tilak Varma’s impressive start are the only bright sparks.

The bowling unit is in even more of a shambles. Champion bowler Jasprit Bumrah is feeling the pangs of separation from Kiwi left-armer Trent Boult who has moved to Rajasthan Royals. Easy pickings from lesser bowlers at the other end have allowed the rival teams’ batsmen to neutralise Bumrah, who has taken only five wickets this season. MI also don’t have any of the IPL’s top spinners, making do with second-stringers.

Under the circumstances, MI’s plight is hardly surprising, although few could have predicted they would already be out of contention from the playoffs midway into the season. A point of concern for Indian cricket now is whether this will dent the confidence of skipper Rohit ahead of the T20 World Cup later this year.

What will raise spirits on the other hand is the stunning performance of a 22-year-old speedster from Kashmir, Umran Malik, for Sunrisers Hyderabad. He arrived on the scene last year as a tearaway quick. But now he has gained accuracy and wicket-taking nous with a mix of bouncers, yorkers, and swing at a disconcerting speed of over 150 kmph. His fastest ball crossed 153 kmph and only Lockie Ferguson of New Zealand matches that.

Umran Malik is in good hands at Sunrisers Hyderabad whose bowling coach is South Africa's Dale Steyn, one of the best fast bowlers of all time. (BCCI)
Umran Malik is in good hands at Sunrisers Hyderabad whose bowling coach is South Africa's Dale Steyn, one of the best fast bowlers of all time. (BCCI)

The Sunrisers can pat themselves on the back for retaining the youngster whose 15 wickets have contributed to taking the franchise to the top half of the table after being the lowest-ranked team last season. His five for 25 against table-toppers Gujarat Titans was a breathtaking exhibition of fast bowling, bringing back memories of the great Pakistani, Australian and the West Indian fast bowlers of yore. The sight of seasoned batsmen unnerved by raw pace is an adrenaline rush for spectators and commentators alike. And it’s not the odd ball that’s fast; more than 90 per cent of his deliveries cross 140 kmph and his average speed is 145 kmph.

There’s something visceral and primeval about seeing a hard cricket ball hurled at those speeds across 22 yards delivery after delivery. Indian batsmen have been at the receiving end of such barrages over the years, from the likes of Shoaib Akhtar and Brett Lee, or Michael Holding, Andy Roberts and Jeff Thomson before that. It will soon be the turn of rival batsmen to face the music from an Indian pacer topping 150 kmph. India’s selectors will do well to fast-track Malik into the national team even if he’s quite inexperienced.

Already the progress he has made is astounding when you consider that he only picked up a cricket ball at the age of 17. The story goes that an under-19 coach first gave him a chance to bowl in the nets. Then his friend Abdul Samad, a batsman from Kashmir who had made it into the IPL, sent a video of his bowling to SRH coaches VVS Laxman and Tom Moody in 2020. He was drafted in as a net bowler and got a chance to play last year when T Natarajan got injured. Such is the power of the IPL in unearthing hidden gems and polishing them.

He is in good hands at SRH whose bowling coach is South Africa’s Dale Steyn, one of the best fast bowlers of all time. SRH skipper Kane Williamson has given him free rein to bowl fast even if he strays at times and gives away boundaries. He is also bowling to well-set fields with catching positions manned as the skipper learns to make the best use of the speedster. He’s going to be the centre of attraction in every game he plays in this IPL regardless of results or the performances of other players, such is the quality of his bowling.

The IPL is a stage for renewing careers as much as discovering new talent. Leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal tops the bowling chart with 18 wickets, followed closely by his left-handed counterpart, Kuldeep Yadav, who has taken 17 wickets in eight games. Chahal was left out of India’s T20 World Cup team last year, and Yadav had all but been written off. The deadly KulCha pair bowling again for India has become a distinct possibility.

The apparent return to fitness and form by Hardik Pandya, who has led the new franchise, Gujarat Titans, to the top of the table, is another talking point. He is averaging 61 with the bat at a healthy strike rate of 137, a far cry from his average of 14 at a strike rate of 113 for Mumbai Indians last season after his return from an injury layoff.

Gujarat Titans' Hardik Pandya (centre), Rashid Khan (left) with Umran Malik of the Sunrisers Hyderabad after their match. (BCCI)
Gujarat Titans' Hardik Pandya (centre), Rashid Khan (left) with Umran Malik of the Sunrisers Hyderabad after their match. (BCCI)

He also bowled economically and took four wickets for GT before a groin strain made him miss a match. A return to the Indian team for the T20 World Cup is on the cards if he proves fit enough to play as an all-rounder for the rest of the season.

Most of all, he leads a bunch of giant-killers at GT, who have already snatched victory from the jaws of defeat more than once. MI’s loss has been Pandya’s gain.

Sumit Chakraberty is a writer based in Bengaluru. Write to him at chakraberty@gmail.com


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