The cricket world’s eyes turn to the IPL this week, as the 2015 edition of world’s most glamorous T20 league gets underway with the Mumbai Indians, winners of the 2013 Indian Premier League championship, taking on the defending 2014 titlists, the Kolkata Knight Riders.
But while Kolkata appears loaded and ready to make a serious run at a repeat championship, the Mumbai team will be looking to answer some nagging questions as they take the field Wednesday night at Eden Gardens.
The Mumbai bowling attack will need veteran spinner Harbhajan Singh, at age 34, to find one more season like the campaign he put together last year as the Indians rebounded heroically from a disastrous 0-5 start to somehow find their way into the IPL Top Four and a berth in the playoffs – only to lose in the eliminator game.
But Singh took 14 wickets for the IPL’s most popular franchise and recorded a 6.47 economy that placed him among the league’s elite bowlers.
Teammate Lasith Malinga was only slightly better with a 6.45 economy, and 16 wickets claimed. But in the 2015 Cricket World Cup, Malinga appeared less than his best as his Sri Lanka national team was blown out of the quarterfinals by South Africa, who cruised to a nine wicket victory.
Malinga got in six overs in that March 18 match, taking his team’s only wicket.
If Singh and Malinga falter, the pressure falls on 24-year-old Australian import Josh Hazlewood to step in and tighten up the 7.57 economy he’s so far posted in 27 T20 matches.
Clearly aware of their potential vulnerability in the bowling unit, Mumbai just on Friday brought in former New Zealand standout Shane Bond as bowling instructor to help out newly appointed Coach Ricky Ponting, the respected former Australia captain.
The appointment is a switch of sides for Bond, who played in the IPL for the Indians’ opening night opponent, Kolkata. In 40 career T20 matches, Bond took 51 wickets.
On the batting side, Mumbai will lean heavily on captain Rohit Sharma, who ranks second in runs scored over the first seven seasons of the IPL, and fellow India international Ambati Rayudu, who has topped 350 runs in three of his five IPL seasons — all spent with the Indians — including 361 last season for a respectable though not spectacular strike rate of 125.78.
The Mumbai Indians begin their quest for a second IPL championship Wednesday against Kolkata at 8 p.m. Indian Standard time, or 10:30 a.m. United States Eastern Daylight Time. The game will be carried live online by ESPN Cricket. For subscription information, click here.
[Image: Gallo Images/Getty Images]