They have bought one dream combination after another. Having started with the Sachin Tendulkar-Sanath Jayasuriya partnership, they brought together Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting this season. But surprisingly opening has remained Mumbai Indians' Achilles heel over the six editions of the Twenty20
league. These combinations have dazzled briefly, but never consistently. This season’s opening pair has also been ordinary.
Dwayne Smith and Tendulkar replaced the ‘Pondulkar’ pair, but there’s been no change in fortunes. The team’s average in the crucial powerplay period, the first six overs of field restrictions, after 11 matches remains a mediocre 36 for one. It’s a poor piece of stat in a format where every team is looking to get off the blocks quickly against the new ball.
Sunday’s game against Chennai Super Kings served another reminder of the issue as Tendulkar and Smith scrapped around for 40 runs in 6.5 overs.
One of them is needed to force the pace. Tendulkar scored 15 off 18 balls, Smith 22 off 24. The total of 139 was below par and only a lethal opening burst by Mitchell Johnson saved the team the blushes. It was a similar story in their previous two encounters against Sunrisers and Kings XI; Smith’s scores were a 40-ball 38 and 32-ball 33 with Tendulkar making a 12-ball 14 and nine off 10 deliveries. While Tendulkar offers many things to his team, Smith doesn’t enjoy the same cushion.
Smith has got runs consistently, and has even made up for slow starts a few times by exploding once he had faced more balls. But with Tendulkar not able to play the dominating role, sedate batting at the other end pushes the team on the backfoot.
The prime requirement is for someone to play the pinch-hitter. And MI have options in their bag. Their million-dollar buy, Glenn Maxwell, who is yet to play, is used to the position as he showed in his 35-ball 51 as opener in Australia’s T20 game against West Indies in February. Then, there is Ambati Rayudu, who’s getting wasted in the lower-order. Smith, in that case, can be used as a big-hitting weapon in the lower middle-order.
With four teams locked in a fierce fight for the play-off, every bit will count. On Tuesday against KKR, the pressure will be on the MI team management to sort out their top order.