They are sitting on pole at the minute, with four Indian Premier League (IPL) titles. However, as a new season of the cash-rich domestic T20 tournament draws near, defending champions Mumbai Indians are busy charting the course to a fifth crown.
Ably helmed by ‘Hitman’ Rohit Sharma, the Mumbai franchise has been, by far and away, the best side on view in the last few seasons of the showpiece domestic event and will yet again be the team to beat as they go into Season 13 to defend their crown.
A well-oiled unit having a perfect blend of seasoned campaigners and fearless hitters, the Reliance Industries-owned franchise has dished out a brand of cricket that has won over their fans as well as pundits.
So, as the IPL bandwagon rolls into the desert sands of the Emirates this year, a question that’s playing on many minds is whether the words ‘Mumbai Indians’ will be inscribed on the coveted trophy yet again.
By the looks of things and especially on the evidence of the squad that they have put together, one would hardly bet against them landing a fifth crown. For starters, the owners have largely retained the winning combination. Former Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene stays head coach, with former New Zealand tearaway Shane Bond as the bowling coach and former India all-rounder Robin Singh as the batting coach. Batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar and former India speedster Zaheer Khan will continue their association with the franchise as Icon and director of cricket operations.
The squad, too, has much of the same faces that won them their fourth title last year. Their batting line-up has vast riches in the skipper himself, South Africa limited overs captain Quinton de Kock, Caribbean big-hitter Kieron Pollard, Australian Chris Lynn, the explosive Pandya brothers, Suryakymar Yadav and Ishan Kishan, among others.
Their pace bowling has enough depth and firepower in ‘Boom Boom’ Bumrah, Lasith Malinga, Mitchell McCleanaghan, Trent Boult, Hardik Pandya and Nathan Coulter-Nile. Their spin department also has a wide array of options in Jayant Yadav, Rahul Chahar, promising Tripura lad Anukul Roy and Krunal Pandya. They also have in their reserves a clutch of raw talents in Punjab batsman Anmolpreet Singh, promising left-arm pacer Mohsin Khan and 22-year-old Maharashtra speedster Digvijay Deshmukh. The last-named also featured opposite Sushant Singh Rajput and Rajkumar Rao in hit Bollywood flick ‘Kai Po Che’.
However, there are concerns around two of their marquees – Hardik and Bumrah. The explosive Baroda all-rounder is still in the process of recovering from a persistent back problem and still hasn’t hit his peak bowling form. Though he reeled off trademark boundaries and sixes in a club tournament in Mumbai recently, it’s to be seen whether he can take that hitting form into the IPL. However, having been away from top-level cricket for a long spell, he has a tough task at hand to recover full fitness and get back into the groove before the tournament rolls.
Bumrah, too, made a comeback from an injury lay-off in the limited overs series at home against Sri Lanka last year and is still in the process of hitting his straps.
Rohit, who has been off cricket like most of his India teammates, was recently quoted as saying that since he hasn’t held a bat ‘in the longest time’, he was taking things slow and won’t rush back into the thick of action. He said there is still enough time for him to get in proper shape and rhythm for the tournament.
Be that as it may, expect Rohit and his MI charges to be in their elements by the time the curtain goes up on the T20 blockbuster.