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Analysis

Bumrah's missing No. 2, Hardik's flat homecoming and other reasons why MI flunked IPL 2024

Be it batting, bowling or captaincy, not much has gone to plan this season for the traditional IPL powerhouse

S Sudarshanan
S Sudarshanan
16-May-2024
Coming into IPL 2024, Mumbai Indians (MI) had some of the very best India players available to them. There was Rohit Sharma, India's captain, at the top. They had the No. 1 T20I batter in world cricket, Suryakumar Yadav, although he did miss MI's first three games owing to fitness issues. In the bowling department they had a fully fit Jasprit Bumrah, who had missed the previous IPL due to injury. And, to cap it all, MI had also traded back into their books Hardik Pandya, India's premier seam-bowling allrounder.
On the back of that strong Indian core, many would have tipped MI to at least make it to the playoffs this time. But they were the first team to be knocked out of IPL 2024, and the wait for a sixth title now extends to four years - the longest they have gone without a title since their first one in 2013.
Even before the tournament started, MI had created a stir by abruptly replacing Rohit as captain with Hardik, a move with which several die-hard MI fans were not too pleased. A few good games might have quickly solved that, but it was not to be. So, what has gone wrong for the team that has traditionally been a powerhouse in the IPL, despite boasting a strong squad, team management, and one of the most robust scouting systems going around?

Hardik's forgettable homecoming

Hardik's first IPL stint with MI - from 2015 to 21 - helped his stocks grow, catapulting him onto the international stage. In 2022, he enhanced his credentials by leading Gujarat Titans (GT) to the IPL trophy in their maiden season, before taking them to a runners-up finish last year. Hardik's form during those two successful seasons with GT - 833 runs at an average of 37.86 and a strike rate of 133.49, and 11 wickets at an economy of 8.10 - showed he was back to being at his best as an allrounder - and seam-bowling allrounders are always a prized asset in Indian cricket.
But Hardik was tested immediately after returning to Mumbai colours. To kick off this season, he was incessantly booed in Ahmedabad when he led MI against his former side, GT, and MI started their season with a loss. The heckling did not stop in his second outing either, when MI played an away game against Sunrisers Hyderabad. And if Hardik expected any respite in front of his home crowd in Mumbai, he was in for a nasty surprise, as he was jeered during MI's first home game this season.
And as the tournament wore on, Hardik's shortcomings on the field became hard to ignore. Across the first 13 matches, he batted at all positions from Nos. 4 to 7, and had been dismissed trying to hit out before getting set on several occasions. With the ball, Hardik picked up 11 wickets in these games, but at an economy rate close to 11.
Returning to action after five months out due to an ankle injury he suffered during the ODI World Cup last October, Hardik bowled his full quota of four overs five times in IPL 2024; something he had done only six times across the previous two seasons. This time, Hardik often took the new ball ahead of Bumrah, and among those who have bowled at least nine overs in the powerplay so far this season, only Naveen-ul-Haq, Mitchell Starc and Gerald Coetzee have a worse economy in the phase than Hardik's 10.55.
Some of Hardik's captaincy calls have also come under the scanner: like holding back Bumrah when SRH were blazing away to a record score, sending Tim David ahead of himself when MI needed 40 runs off 26 balls in their opening match, bowling the last over against Chennai Super Kings only for MS Dhoni to hit him for 20 off four balls, or even throwing Tilak Varma under the bus after a narrow defeat to Delhi Capitals. Pictures of bowlers running to Rohit or Bumrah to consult on field positions, and of a largely reclusive Hardik, when being taken for runs or during wicket celebrations, did not help either.

Rohit's up-and-down season

The idea behind the captaincy switch, as explained by head coach Mark Boucher, was to free up Rohit, the batter, after two underwhelming seasons for MI.
It seemed to have been working for MI after Rohit got off to blazing starts in the first few games. Thanks to him, MI had the second best run rate (10.66) in the powerplay in their first six games. Whether it be left-arm seam, right-arm pace or spin, Rohit was treating the bowlers with disdain, using sweeps, reverse-sweeps and scoops among other shots. In fact, only twice in his IPL career had Rohit scored more off his first 12 balls than the 26 he did in Hyderabad: 37 in April 2015, and 27 in May 2015.
Rohit even hit his second IPL century - his first since 2012 - in MI's loss against CSK, but his form has tapered off since - he averages 8.66 with a strike rate of 88.13 in his last six outings. He was dismissed inside the powerplay in only two of the first seven innings, but has only managed to play out the first six overs in only one game since. Rohit's loss of form means his overall strike rate of 145.42 - his career best in the IPL - has been reduced to a mere footnote.

MI's bowling woes

Think of MI's overseas bowlers in each of their title-winning seasons: Mitchell Johnson (2013), Lasith Malinga (2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019), Mitchell McClenaghan (2015 and 2017), and Trent Boult (2020). All of them complemented the Indian bowling contingent in MI's success stories. Once Jason Behrendorff - who picked up 23 wickets last year - was ruled out of this season, MI's bowling resources took a hit. All of Coetzee, Luke Wood, Kwena Maphaka (a teenager who only rose to prominence in the Under-19 World Cup earlier in the year) and Nuwan Thushara were playing their first IPL, and couldn't take on the mantle of second seamer behind Bumrah.
MI's collective economy of 10.04 in the first six matches was the worst for any team in IPL 2024. They also had the third-worst average (35.72) in that period, even though they had picked up 33 wickets. Despite that, Bumrah was a class apart in those games with an economy of 6.08 and ten wickets (average 14.60). Coetzee was MI's next best bowler with nine wickets until then, but conceded runs at over ten an over. Getting Bumrah back this season should have lifted MI's bowling performance, but they faltered and let teams post tall scores, including SRH's record-breaking 277.
A part of this was also down to the absence of a reliable spinner in their ranks. It took time for MI to back their premier spinner Piyush Chawla, who has been their second-most economical bowler since their seventh outing. MI played Shreyas Gopal and Shams Mulani, and also used the offspin of Mohammad Nabi with little effect, before continuing with Chawla, who has picked up ten wickets in IPL 2024.
Their reluctance to try Kumar Kartikeya, who had played eight games and returned five wickets last season, is confounding. He bowls wristspin as well as fingerspin, and picked up eight wickets at an average of 11.87 and an economy of 5.58 in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy 2023, India's domestic T20 tournament. Kartikeya was regularly among the first at MI's optional trainings this season, but has failed to make the XI 13 games in.

Fluctuating batting fortunes

Till their fifth match on April 11, MI's run rate (10.11) was only marginally less than Kolkata Knight Riders' (10.45). But since their loss to CSK - their fourth defeat in six matches - MI have been the third-slowest team in the powerplay. They have lost 25 wickets in the first six overs, the second-most for a team this season.
Rohit's form, as already touched upon, has been patchy, and his opening partner Ishan Kishan's returns have been poor. In MI's first six matches this season, Kishan and Rohit added four fifty-plus partnerships, including 101 vs Royal Challengers Bengaluru. But in five of the next six games, they did not cross 35.
Suryakumar, after being declared fit, returned to hit three fifties and a century in ten innings. But Tim David and Romario Shepherd's inconsistency, coupled with Hardik's own poor returns, has meant MI have lacked a reliable finisher.
"T20 cricket is about momentum, but we didn't get that momentum right from the beginning," Chawla said after the loss against KKR at Eden Gardens. "Sometimes we bowl well and then we end up not batting that well. Likewise, sometimes we bat well and the bowling is not [up to the mark]. It's not just that we are lacking in one department. As a unit, we have failed in a few games. These things happen, and we have to accept that fact."
MI do have a few positives from the season: Akash Madhwal's spell against Rajasthan Royals, a couple of 40s from Nehal Wadhera after getting a late look-in, Anshul Kamboj's debut, and Tilak's consistency are some of them. But, given how this season has played out, the MI team management is probably glad they have the chance to start afresh at the mega-auction ahead of the next season.

S Sudarshanan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @Sudarshanan7

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