Expectations high for power-packed defending champions
If there is one team that starts IPL 2018 with lofty expectations irrespective of the unpredictability factor that this edition brings, it's Mumbai Indians. The Mumbai-based franchise is not only the defending champions but also the most successful team in the short history of the league, having added a third crown to their cabinet last season.
Mumbai's retention policy was a no-brainer. The franchise placed its faith on captain Rohit Sharma - the only man with four IPL titles to his credit - death-bowling specialist Jasprit Bumrah and a proven match-winner in Hardik Pandya. To strengthen their core further, they spent big bucks on bringing back Krunal Pandya and the big-hitting Kieron Pollard through RTMs. At the auctions, they built a team around the five who have now established themselves as the nucleus of this side, and did fairly well to shed its 'star-player' tag and add quality pacers to the squad. The experienced hands of JP Duminy and Ben Cutting add depth and variety to the all-rounders' camp and give MI a strong bench.
Having said that, there is also a fair bit of investment in the unknowns and the uncapped, and it could go either way for the reigning champions. Ishan Kishan is the frontrunner for the wicketkeeping role - a department where MI don't have a lot of options anyway. The spin department looks weakened in the absence of Harbhajan Singh and Karn Sharma, who will both be in the opposition camp during their opening game. But Sri Lankan mystery spinner Akila Dhanajaya has deservedly got the nod, along with Rahul Chahar and Anukul Roy, the latter particularly impressing in the Under-19 World Cup earlier this year.
Their over-reliance on Bumrah, though, is hard to miss. With him being the only experienced frontline Indian quick in their ranks, MI had gone the extra mile to pick up some of the best available pace bowling talent in Jason Behrendorff, Pat Cummins and Mustafizur Rahman. However, they've lost Behrendorff to injury even before the start of the tournament. Cummins - only one to have bowled more overs than the already-ruled-out Kagiso Rabada in this international season - is susceptible to injuries. And so is Mustafizur Rahman. The area they genuinely looked to strengthen could turn into a weakness should the injury-prone foreign pacers breakdown at any stage, and MI would be expecting more from the four overs that Bumrah bowls.
MI's strengths lie in the core they have retained and the all-rounders they pack in their squad. On top of it, if they can manage their lower order wisely, Mumbai Indians have enough firepower to make it to the playoffs.