If you followed the World T20 last month, chances are, the Mumbai Indians squad resembles an All-Star cast from the tournament – superstars of the shortest format, capable of switching gears on a whim, across both bat and ball. Theirs is a heady mix of powerful ball strikers who have made a name for themselves across T20 leagues around the world, without reason to be overdependent on any one clutch player. The bowling arsenal, though depleted by Lasith Malinga’s absence, shows no signs of being exposed, considering the diversity of resources at hand. The only issue, if at all, is the problem of plenty to be addressed, while choosing 4 overseas players to start a game.
In case all of this sounds a bit too perfect to be true, that’s because it is, with every single player in the 26 member squad bar Malinga reporting fit ahead of the opening “Maharashtra derby” against Pune this Sunday. Consider this – there’s Rohit Sharma and Lendl Simmons at the top, followed by IPL debutant Jos Buttler and Hardik Pandya, who has gone quite a long way since his eye catching performances last season. Catch your breath, because there’s Corey Anderson and Kieron Pollard to come after this. Ambati Rayudu has had stellar seasons in this tournament, and he needs one, more than anyone else, after missing the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy for Baroda. Of all people, he is certain to be part of the middle order, considering the overseas player rule.
Talking of Indian talent, the squad brims with proven performers, and it helps that they have largely retained their core over the past few seasons – Jasprit Bumrah, Jagadeesha Suchith and the experienced hand in Harbhajan Singh. Excitement and novelty comes in the form of the express Nathu Singh, who, despite only a handful of games for Rajasthan, has been fast-tracked by the national selectors to tour games against South Africa and the Rest of India squad for the Irani Trophy. He would find this a whole new beast to tackle, though, and his progress through the next two months could be among the big story lines of this edition. Akshay Wakhare of Vidarbha gets a look in too, following a couple of notable performances in the Mushtaq Ali Trophy at the Wankhede, to follow his stellar, 49 wicket run in a memorable Ranji season for them. Krunal Pandya, Hardik’s elder sibling, was among the oddball picks at this year’s auction, considering he has been out for a year with an injury. His all-round talent, as a slow left armer who can bat, could see him pip Suchith at some point, should the latter not fire early on.
In Malinga’s absence, the Kiwi duo of Tim Southee and Mitchell McClenaghan would lead the attack, and it would be interesting to see how Ricky Ponting handles them, considering they were recently seen as surplus to requirements by their national side at the World T20. The dugout has familiar faces in Robin Singh, Jonty Rhodes, Shane Bond, as Ponting takes charge as head coach for the second season.
CRICKING VERDICT Defending champions, with among the strongest squads in the field. Their title to lose.