Less than six months after lifting their record-extending fifth Indian Premier League (IPL) trophy, Mumbai Indians have managed just two wins in the first five games into the 14th season of the tournament, albeit clinging onto the last playoffs spot in the points table. Mumbai Indians have had more bizarre starts than this in recent times. Since the beginning of their sheer domination in the league, in 2013, twice have they lost four of their first five games - 2015 and 2018 - ending with the trophy in the first season and finishing fifth in the second. But what has hurt them this time around, leading to a bizarre start to their IPL 2021 has been their batting.
In 2020, the season played in the UAE, Mumbai Indians recorded a scoring rate of 12.74 runs per over in the death (17 to 20), the most recorded by any team during that phase in any IPL season. Orchestrated by Ishan Kishan, Kieron Pollard and the Pandya brothers, Mumbai Indians were simply invincible in the slog overs, with a boundary rate of 3.21 balls, almost a delivery more than the second-placed team. Among 46 batters who at least faced 20 balls in the death last season, Ishan and Pollard were one of the best strikers of the ball, only behind Faf du Plessis of Chennai Super Kings, followed by Hardik.
Five matches into the 14th season, their scoring rate in the death has fallen by almost half. 6.79 runs per over are the lowest they have ever recorded in any IPL season. And this can be more significantly shown through their scores in the last four overs - 24 runs in their season opener against Royal Challengers Bangalore, 23 runs in their game against Delhi Capitals, and 26 runs on Friday in the game against Punjab Kings.
The primary reason behind their struggle has been their middle order not putting runs. The same combination who were awe-so-destructive last season, clearing any distance of boundaries at will, have failed to click and subsequently fire. One could opine that the sluggish Chepauk conditions, where they have played their first five games as per the schedule, have rubbed off on the combination, who have combined to put up a score of just 91 runs in 81 balls at a strike rate of 112.35 this season and a boundary rate of 6.46.
Since 2017, the scoring rate and boundary percentage at the MA Chidambaram has been the least among all IPL venues - 7.22 and 14.03 respectively. With the ball gripping on the surface and turning, batsmen have found it difficult to score at Chepauk and the story remains the same this season as well, where bowling teams have adapted to bring in medium pacers to exploit the slow nature of the pace by taking the pace of the deliveries and hitting the hard length. Moreover, the unfamiliarity with the conditions might also be another cause. Mumbai have played only 12 matches at the Chepauk before this season, and only two since 2016.
The Chepauk conditions also affected their batting in the middle overs (7 to 16). Mumbai were the best scoring team in that phase last season with a run rate of 8.03 and a boundary rate of 6.4 balls. The scoring rate has fallen to 7.14 runs per over this season, only better than Sunrisers Hyderabad. On Tuesday, Mumbai had a scoring rate of 9.16 runs per over at the end of the PowerPlay, but it dipped to as low as 5.9 at the end of the middle overs. A similar was seen in the game against Sunrisers Hyderabad as well. After racing to 53/0 in the PowerPlay, the spinners along with Vijay Shankar restricted their scoring rate to around 7.50 runs per over.
"Probably the last game was a bit of an off one for us but the previous two games I think our tempo was very good," MI head coach Mahela Jayawardene had said on Monday, ahead of the DC game. "Overall, we are very happy but knowing Rohit, he will keep pushing the guys. If we haven't hit those marks, he will bring it up and want us to improve. I think last game we have to consider that we were up against two quality spinners in Rashid and Mujeeb, especially in the middle overs, and at the same time we lost a couple of wickets."
In a bid to maximise the output from the middle-order, Mumbai made a "tactical" change to their batting lineup by sending Suryakumar Yadav at No.4 and bringing Ishan at No.3. The move affected their PowerPlay score where they ended up with just 21 runs, their joint lowest in IPL history, but the combination of Surya with Rohit played the only significant role in Mumbai's run to 131 for 6 at the end of 20 overs against Punjab. Mumbai eventually lost by nine wickets.
"Not enough runs. I still feel it is not a bad wicket to bat on. You saw how Punjab Kings batted and won the game with 9 wickets in hand. It is just the application that is missing in our batting. If you get 150-160 on this wicket then you are always in the game, that is something we failed to do in the last two games. You can look at it, either way, I thought their bowlers bowled well in the powerplay, Ishan was trying to hit but couldn't get it and even I was not able to hit. We have batted well in the powerplay previously but today we failed to do so. Something is missing in our batting line-up, we are not able to bat 20 overs in the fashion we want and something that we have to look at and see what we can do," Rohit said in the post-match presentation.
Mumbai have wrapped up their Chennai phase of IPL 2021 and they would be happy to bid Chepauk goodbye with the hope that their next venue - Delhi's Arun Jaitley Stadium - changes their fortune.