Ajinkya Rahane has been removed as captain of Rajasthan Royals, and Steven Smith has been promoted to the top spot. As such, that would have been Royals' pick last season itself, but the ball-tampering scandal forced them into a change of plans. Rahane has since gone out and done what he could, but it really hasn't been good enough.
Smith, in fact, is No. 1 on the list of most successful IPL captains (minimum 25 matches). He has won 16 and lost eight of the games he has led in, across stints with Rising Pune Supergiant/s and Royals. Rahane is much lower on that list, with just nine wins and 15 losses over the years. Of those 15 losses, six have come in eight matches so far this season, making the swap a pretty easy decision for the team management.
The other swap, Rahul Tripathi for Rahane at the top of the batting order, isn't as easy considering Rahane's stature as a top-tier cricketer. But, if we look beyond reputation, Tripathi has a strong case.
Since 2017, Rahane has scored more runs (953) than Tripathi (758), but in five more innings. Rahane's average is marginally superior - 26.47 to Tripathi's 26.13 - but the clincher is in the strike rate: Tripathi scores his runs at 137.31, whereas Rahane goes at 121.09.
Mumbai must rethink Suryakumar's batting position
Suryakumar Yadav was Mumbai Indians' outstanding batsman last season. He played all 14 games, was their highest run-getter with 512 runs, at an average of 36.57 (the best for the team) and a strike rate of 133.33.
Of the 14 games, he batted at No. 4 in the first two, and opened in the next 12. He did make a difference there.
This year, he has batted at No. 3 in all the games except one, in which he batted at No. 4. The reason for the swap - not because he is better lower down - is to slot Rohit Sharma at the start alongside Quinton de Kock. It hasn't worked. Suryakumar has averaged 24.30, and has scored at a strike rate of 124.61. Not terrible but glaring as a strategic error because his time in the middle has left Hardik Pandya and Kieron Pollard, the two biggest hitters in the team, with far too little time to always make a mark. They have still done it, but no thanks to the team's planning.
Of the batsmen to have played in the middle phase - overs seven to 15 - this season, Suryakumar has been the slowest, with a strike rate of 98.9, and a poor balls-per-boundary rate of 12.8. On Saturday too, though he came in after the third-over fall of Rohit Sharma - as he should have - he took his time to get going with two runs from seven balls within the Powerplay and then going on to score a 33-ball 34, batting till the 14th over.
As such, Mumbai have the second-highest run rate (before this game) among the eight teams in the Powerplay: 8.5. And they are right on top with Kolkata Knight Riders for highest scoring rate at the death (overs 16 to 20): 11.7. But in the middle, they are the third-worst at 7.4.
On Saturday, in Jaipur against Royals, Mumbai were stuck with three overs from Jofra Archer at the death. A neat plan from new captain Steven Smith, and one that could have been countered somewhat if Suryakumar had played a little faster.
Why did Mumbai hold back Bumrah and Malinga?
But a double-wicket over from legspinner Rahul Chahar in the ninth gave Mumbai a big opening.
That was, perhaps, the time to bring in one of the gun bowlers, but Rohit instead went with Mayank Markande, who had been hit for 15 in his previous over. Markande bowled two long hops, which both went for boundaries, handing Royals back some momentum. Then, after a tight over from Chahar, Krunal Pandya was handed the ball. He went for nine, and the required rate for Royals was back down to seven per over. Bumrah did help pull Royals back later on, but it was too late.
Royals deserve credit for continuing to attack after losing two quick wickets to Chahar and also for targeting the weak links in Mumbai's attack sensibly. Taking 48 runs off the four overs bowled by Markande and Krunal meant they could afford to go at just 5.25 an over against Bumrah and less than eight an over against Hardik and Chahar.
With inputs from Gaurav Sundararaman and Shamya Dasgupta