Mumbai Indians

The peculiar case of the Mumbai Indians’ international affiliation

Trent Boult, who frequently targets the top orders of the opposition, made early changes to the Mumbai Indians’ batting lineup on a warm evening in Mumbai. As MI exercised their Impact Sub option as early as the end of their innings, Dewald Brevis entered the game at halftime. This was the earliest any team has done so since the rule’s introduction the previous season. This was MI fielding their traditional 2-2 foreign lineup from their 2013–20 glory days: a seamer (Gerald Coetzee), a left-arm seamer (Luke Wood/Kwena Maphaka), a finisher (Tim David), and a top order batter (Dewald Brevis). Because MI needed to add to their batting lineup due to Suryakumar Yadav’s absence at the beginning of the season, the 2-2 overseas combination made sense.

The Impact Player is supposed to increase depth in both bowling and hitting, but in reality, things haven’t worked out that way. Eight clubs were reduced to ten, requiring 80 domestic players to be split across ten franchises instead of the previous eight’s 56. The quality of bowling has declined significantly since the domestic bowling talent pool is thinner than that of the batting counterparts. Since the beginning of the IPL 2023, this, together with the additional buffer provided by Impact Player, has caused scoring rates to skyrocket.

In light of this, MI bragged of having a top order that included the best players from India’s T20 squad, including Rohit Sharma, Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan, Tilak Varma, and Hardik Pandya. Few other teams could afford to play three overseas bowlers in their starting XI, but this has given them the unique privilege. Given their international makeup across the extended squad—MI had the fewest number of specialist overseas batters among the ten teams—it appeared that way at the beginning of the season. MI appeared to have found a way to improve their bowling performance from the previous season, when they were the weakest team in the league.

But as Suryakumar entered the XII for their fourth game, things changed. MI decided to go with a different overseas lineup, benching Brevis and Maphaka and adding two all-rounders in the shape of Mohammad Nabi, who can be a handy matchup against spinners, and Romario Shepherd, a hard-hitting bottom order batsman who often lets runs slip away with the ball. This combination meant that MI had as many as seven frontline bowling options and someone with Coetzee’s ball striking skills coming out to bat at #9. The extra batter’s presence should both stretch the batting and free up top order players to bat more freely.

Though they have had luck with the results, having won three of their last four games, it has not quite translated as MI had hoped. In their four games together, Shepherd and Nabi have faced 22 balls between them. Other than the former’s 10-ball cameo of 32 runs against Anrich Nortje, the pair has not done much with the bat. Even with their depth in the batting department, MI was two runs short of losing in Mullanpur until PBKS ran out of ammunition when they were unable to contain 206 against a CSK attack that was without Deepak Chahar and Mahesh Theekshana.

IPL 2024: Shepherd – Nabi

AgainstBalls facedRuns scoredOvers bowledWkts takenER

On the ball, however, things have been a little different; in the four games they have played together, the pair has averaged four overs each game. But there is a price for it. With just one wicket in 16 overs from Shepherd and Nabi, MI has lost 172 runs at an average of 10.75 per over. Hardik Pandya, the captain, has been using four overs of them on average to cover up another serious weakness in their defence: the spin attack. At the midway point of the season, MI is at the bottom of the spinner rankings, and their top leg spinner, Shreyas Gopal, has not finished his four over allotment in any of the games except one against RCB.

The potency of bowling assaults, particularly spin attacks in the last three editions, has been diminished by the ten-team expansion. Nearly 47% of MI’s money went into four retentions, of which Jasprit Bumrah was the lone bowler, before the company joined the super auction in 2022. They also paid Ishan Kishan and the injury-prone Jofra Archer INR 23.25 crores for their services; Archer ultimately made five appearances for MI in two seasons. It would finally expose one of their bases, which happened to be the spin department, as they had to spend about 75% of their budget on six players. With the help of Piyush Chawla, MI barely made it above the water in the previous season and finished last in the IPL 2022. They have once again had the least effective spin assault this year.

IPL 2024 spin assaults


MI’s 2024 IPL spinners

AgainstWrist spinnerFinger spinner
GTP Chawla: 1/31(3)S Mulani: 0/24(3)
SRHP Chawla: 1/34(2)S Mulani: 0/33(2)
RRP Chawla: 0/18(3)DNB
DCP Chawla: 0/32(2)M Nabi: 0/17(2)
RCBS Gopal: 1/32(4)M Nabi: 0/7(1)
CSKS Gopal: 1/9(6)M Nabi: 0/19(3)
PBKSS Gopal: 1/26(2)DNB

MI had one of the poorest bowling units in the IPL 2023, and because of the lack of support for Jasprit Bumrah, MI’s bowling unit’s fortunes have remained mostly unchanged even with Bumrah’s return and the type of season he is having. The five-time champions would be better off starting another specialist seamer, Nuwan Thushara, in place of one of their all-rounders, who can be chosen based on the opposition’s lineup and the playing circumstances. Similar in style to Lasith Malinga and Matheesha Pathirana, Thushara possesses a slingy round arm motion. Earlier in the year, he played for the MI franchise in the SA20, and he was one of the few players to extract the greatest sideways movement with the new ball during the competition.

With Thushara in the starting XI, MI would have to slightly adjust the composition of their XII. They will still have seven options for front-line bowling, and if they would rather balance the side weighing towards more batting depth with captain Hardik Pandya as the sixth bowler, they can do so by substituting Nehal Wadhera—who impressed in his MI debut season last year and followed it up with a strong SMAT with Punjab—for either wrist spinner or Akash Madhwal, who is currently bowling at an average of 11.28 per over.

Nuwan Thushara in international cricket and franchise T20 leagues

Overs 1-62717.3314.47.20
Overs 7-15538.0028.87.92
Overs 16-202915.219.39.80

In his eight-year career, Thushara has participated in 87 Twenty20 matches. This includes a few T20 Internationals played in Australia, the recently finished SA20, and the upcoming IPL, which will be a significant step up from the levels he is used to. Even while Thushara’s addition might not be a miracle cure for all of MI’s problems, it would at least enable them to use their bowlers as effectively as possible. As a tough enforcer of lengths in the middle and death overs, Coetzee has frequently been put in charge of collecting the new ball, which he has sprayed all over the place. In their previous match, MI frontloaded Bumrah’s overs because to favourable circumstances in Mullanpur, and when his spell ended by the end of the 17th over, captain Hardik was forced to find worse options to fill the backside.

The captain of the national team and other experts have taken issue with Impact Player’s presence and impact on Indian cricket. It has undoubtedly helped some teams mask batting inefficiencies, but as the Mumbai Indians showed, it hasn’t had quite the same impact on the bowling side of things. At the midway point of the competition, they have a shaky 3–4 win–loss record. It will be intriguing to see how they close the huge gaps in their bowling attack as they advance.