Mumbai Indians have a laid-out map on how they approach every season and that’s what makes them the most successful franchise of IPL so far.
May 21, 2009. Mumbai Indians(MI) played their last league game in the second season of the Indian Premier League against Delhi Daredevils. Mumbai lost by four wickets and ended up as the second last team in the points table.
Barring Sachin Tendulkar and Ajinkya Rahane with the bat and Harbhajan Singh with the ball, no one turned up. It was the story of their season. They relied heavily on Sachin, Harbhajan and JP Duminy, whom they had bought that year. The squad had several other international stars like Sanath Jayasuriya, Dwayne Bravo, Lasith Malinga, Zaheer Khan, Kyle Mills and Mohammed Ashraful.
Ahead of the 2010 season, MI recruited many domestic talents from the Indian Cricket League circuit. The likes of Ambati Rayudu and Saurabh Tiwary stepped-up and MI dominated the tournament before losing the finals to Chennai Super Kings. Sachin scored runs, Harbhajan took wickets. Four of the top ten wicket-takers of the season were from MI. It was then the star-studded MI camp realised the importance of Indian uncapped players in a tournament like IPL.
Core Indian group:
When MI had to retain four players before the 2011 auction, they chose Rayudu and Kieron Pollard along with Sachin and Harbhajan. It came as a surprise for many, but by then MI management had learnt the importance of maintaining the Indian core of the team. Rohit Sharma and Munaf Patel were the key-buys in the auction. A set of youngsters- Tirumalasetti Suman, Yuzvendra Chahal, Pawan Suyal, and Suryakumar Yadav – were added to the squad.
Though their addition did not bear fruit immediately, Rohit and Rayudu performed well. Over the next couple of years, they became the core group around which players were picked and slotted. A 17-year-old Kuldeep Yadav was bought in 2012. Dinesh Karthik and Pragyan Ojha joined the squad. By 2013, they had a group of Indian players around whom key foreign players were placed to perform specific roles. It played a crucial role in their successful campaign led by a young captain in Rohit Sharma that year.
It became a household template for them as they continued to maintain a group of Indian players around whom the team is built. As the years went by, Hardik Pandya and Krunal Pandya replaced Rayudu and Harbhajan in the core group. Meanwhile, they had already won two more IPL trophies in 2015 and 2017. Keeping the Indian core intact has been at the centre of MI’s strength over the years.
Players retained and rebought in 2011: Sachin, Pollard, Harbhajan, Malinga and Rayudu
Retained list in 2014: Rohit, Pollard, Rayudu, Malinga and Harbhajan
Players retained and rebought in 2018: Rohit, Bumrah, Hardik, Krunal and Pollard
Talent Scout system:
After the 2010 IPL season, Mumbai Indians brought in a scheme called ‘Youth first policy”, for which they started a talent scouting program. The program was headed by a group of former cricketers and coaches who have an eye for talent. Former cricketers Kiran More, Abey Kuruvila, TA Sekar were all a part of it. John Wright, who was the head coach for a while, was also added to the group. They would travel across the country to watch local matches and identify young talents that can be groomed.
One of the earliest additions was Kuldeep Yadav in 2012 along with a few other young cricketers. Not everyone who is scouted gets an opportunity. However, if they can find one talent that can be groomed every year, it is of great use, not just for the franchise, but for Indian cricket.
In March 2013, John Wright turned up for a Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy match between Gujarat and Mumbai. As he watched the course of the match, a certain Jasprit Bumrah was troubling the Mumbai openers. Soon, Wright knew that he had found a gem. Next thing Bumrah knew was that he had an IPL contract with Mumbai Indians.
Ahead of 2015, Hardik Pandya was signed. Next year, it was Krunal. Two years down the line, Hardik and Bumrah were retained and Krunal was bought back in the auction. They formed the core of MI. Such has been the impact of the talent scout team. In 2018, they threw in a young leg-spinner – Mayank Markande. The very next year, they brought Rahul Chahar in.
Once they get chance, either they are retained or picked by other franchisees in the next auction depending on their performance. If one may say so, MI’s scouting team has played a significant role in identifying and supplying talents to the Indian Premier League and Indian cricket as a whole.
Letting go of players:
Apart from finding young talents, MI also has been extremely good with letting go off the senior players at the right time. Shaun Pollock, who was captaining the first edition, became coach in the second. In 2013, they started with Ricky Ponting as captain, who midway through the tournament dropped himself as he was not performing well with the bat. Sachin Tendulkar was left out due to injury and was not picked thereafter in that season. Similarly, Yuvraj Singh was dropped in the latest edition.
While they drop players when they feel the time is right, MI is also good at dropping their senior players for a couple of matches in-between the season to bring the best out of them. It has happened multiple times with Pollard and Malinga, especially in the last few seasons.
The other distinct character of MI is that they let go off players no matter how well they performed if the player doesn’t fit in their scheme of things. In 2013, when MI won, Dinesh Karthik had a key role to play with the bat. However, they let go off him in the auction. It raised eyebrows when MI let go off Dwayne Bravo in 2011 auction for Pollard. Dwayne Smith and Mitchell Johnson had a good season before MI let them go.
Likewise, MI would also let go off the younger players, whom they try to groom if they are not getting enough opportunities. There are a number of key Indian and foreign players in the IPL circuit, who were a part of MI in their initial days. Glenn Maxwell, Jos Buttler, Chahal, Kuldeep, Shreyas Gopal, Jayant Yadav, Ajinkya Rahane, Nitesh Rana, Siddesh Lad, Nicholas Pooran, Axar Patel, Jagadeesha Suchith, and K Gowtham to name a few.
Data and Statistical Analysis:
Apart from players and squad, Mumbai is known for their star-studded coaches and support staff. Lalchand Rajput was the coach in the first season. Pollock came in. John Wright took over from him, followed by Ricky Ponting, Anil Kumble, and Mahela Jayawardene. Besides them, there has. always been specialists coaches like Shane Bond, Jhonty Rhodes etc. Sachin Tendulkar has been around as a mentor and the icon of the team.
For a young team that underwent a transformation under Rohit Sharma, the role of the support staff was crucial. They were always there to pick up the technicalities and strategic issues with the squad as well as the team. In 2018, when Malinga was not a part of the squad, he was roped in as a bowling consultant. The next year, he won the final for them as a player.
The strategy of Mumbai has always been based on data and video analysis. They have been working with a data analysis organisation called SportsMechanics and L Varun is currently the video analyst for them. Gaurav Sundaraman, a senior data analyst at ESPN, was formerly working with SportsMechanics and he once said in ESPNCricinfo video on how specific the analysis requests from the Mumbai team management would be. “The kind of data requests that come are very deep and strategic in nature.” He said that they would request for specific matchups and strength and weakness of a player before making a decision.
It holds true as one can see the glimpses of analytical meetings that happen in the Netflix documentary called ‘Cricket Fever’ that covered the 2018 season for Mumbai. After six matches MI had won only one match and Jayawardene would be discussing the number of dot balls in the last five matches while batting.
Similarly, a lot of video analysis happens in their preparation as well. There were instances where Mumbai Indians brought in Jason Behrendoff or Mitchell McClenaghan to counter the weakness of Virat Kohli against left-arm seamers in the past. A similar ploy of bowling short around the wicket for Andre Russell was worked out and it helped them. While this kind of analysis happens during a season, a lot of it happens prior to it.
Owner’s support and offseason approach:
The added advantage for Mumbai Indians is the involvement of the owners. Owned by Mukesh Ambani, they have an offseason facility to practice and prepare. Managed by Nita Ambani and Akash Ambani, the owners are very much involved in the formation of the squad. A video released in their YouTube channel is a witness to everyone about their statistical awareness. They tend to keep track of the performances of their players.
The financial strength of the franchise has played a huge role in managing their players. On multiple occasions, it is reported that their preparation starts a few months after the season completes in the lead up to the auction. Players who are not involved in the international schedule tend to practice in the offseason facility.
The coaches are available during the offseason as well. Zaheer Khan, who has taken over as the Director of Cricketing Operations, was seen coaching players like Ishan Kishan, Siddesh Lad, Alzaari Joseph and Shane Rutherford during the offseason. Tracking the squad strength and form plays a huge role in forming the squad ahead of the auction for any team and Mumbai has checked that box every time.
There is no one way to be successful, especially in sport. Chennai Super Kings, which is the second most successful franchise in IPL, approaches the tournament in a completely different manner. Mumbai Indians has found out a methodology that works for them and they have stuck to it. That remains the hallmark of their success story.