Two games into the Indian Premier League this season and Mumbai Indians have given every indication that the format has been grasped completely after two successive attempts-turned-into-fiascos.
In fact, I must admit that following the Mumbai Indians during the player auction sent that shiver of déjà-vu. I groaned at some of the selections, bought over with reputations that were past their sell-by date. Or those who would have probably shown promise but on tracks as different from the ones in the sub-continent as a 1980s’ WACA was from the current Kotla.
In the hindsight, and I say this with the knowledge that the real hindsight should be still a good month and a half away, some of the decisions have turned out to be brilliant ones.
Munaf Patel is one that immediately comes to mind. Munaf would have found it difficult to make it to the playing eleven in the World Cup. Till Praveen Kumar got injured anyway. Even then, had Sreesanth had had a good opener against Bangladesh, a fit Ashish Nehra would have joined hands with the Kerala maverick and Zaheer Khan in the playing eleven.
Not only did he make it to the 11 but he exhibited some unusual control and calmness in his bowling, leading to the campaign being one of the zeniths of his cricket career. The form has boiled over into the Indian Premier League. Yet to pick up a wicket in the six overs that he has bowled, Munaf has conceded only 30 so far – a marked improvement over his past endeavours.
After Lasith Malinga’s opening burst, to have someone frugal was always going to be important for the Mumbai Indians. Ryan McLaren was the back-up quick bowler in the previous edition of the IPL and he had gone for aplenty.
Davy Jacobs was another surprise. By cold logic, unless a wicket-keeper was going to double up as a batsman with a track record of the kind that Adam Gilchrist possesses, the four-foreigners rule exhorts the captains to select home-grown stumpers. Kumar Sangakkara will walk into any side as a batsman alone, as will Bangalore keeper AB de Villiers. The reason why Mark Boucher is a part of the commentary panel and not that of the IPL this season is the same – having a foreign wicket-keeper, with limited batting skills was getting into unwanted territories.
Jacobs is a decent bat, as his record in the Champions League T20 last year showed (he was the tournament's second-highest run-getter). But then again, it was in the realms of his backyard, in South Africa. For a non-international to pick up the gloves and open the innings in India was always going to be a challenge, and it was interesting to see him get the kind of start that he did against Bangalore. Zaheer Khan was taken apart in his very first spell and he never recovered to be a fractious for the opposite batsmen as he had in the World Cup.
What also helps Jacobs is that Andrew Symonds has yet to regain full fitness. Even if he does, there are many reasons to believe that he will replace James Franklin in the side and Jacobs will continue to partner Tendulkar at the top.
Where the Mumbai Indians have also done well is to ensure that they sign up most of their domestic signings from the previous season. Dhawal Kulkarni and Aditya Tare did not have a huge role to play in their campaign last year but they have been retained as were the three shining players, who would have otherwise slipped under the radar – Ali Murtaza, Ambati Rayadu and Rajagopal Satish. A fourth, Abu Nechim also remains the part and though the opportunities may be limited for him, that feeling of being a part of a big family gets accentuated when the players have those familiar faces bowling in the nets and training together.
Tendulkar’s batting, much like in the other formats of the game over the last couple of years, has evolved to another level in the IPL. Much like Jacques Kallis, he refuses to dominate attacks, and yet, his average and strike-rate remind elicits comparisons with Lance Klusener of the 1999 World Cup – he would score runs at a fair clip, seldom not wanting a not-out next to his name and till the time he was at the crease, a game was never lost for the South Africans.
The tournament is only a couple of rounds old. Two wins in two games propels the Mumbai Indians to the top of the table but the real competition will begin with the games against Pune, Rajasthan and Chennai, not to forget the redoubtable Kolkata Knight Riders of 2011. That said, it will continue to be hard for these other sides to overcome the balance that the Mumbai Indians has. They will be one of the my favourites to enter the playoffs.