“I am very happy, so far, we’ve got a healthy squad going into the first game,” Mumbai Indians coach, Mahela Jayawardene is a relieved man. Most teams in the Indian Premier League have been plagued by injuries to key players ahead of the tournament.
Unlike the other coaches, he doesn’t have to stress about absentees, at least for now. Speaking to the media in Mumbai on Sunday, the Sri Lankan is happy with his side’s preparations ahead of their first match against Rising Pune Supergiants on Thursday.
“We have to make sure our key players are on the field all the time. Yes, the practice match yesterday was pretty good and intense. We got a lot out of that. It was good for Rohit to be there out for 40 overs,” he said.
But Jayawardene reckons his side don’t have any kind of added advantage despite a fully fit squad at his disposal, that consist of 27 players, seven among them new signings. The two-time winners don’t head into the tournament as favourites but the underdog tag wouldn’t suit them either.
“Yes it’s unfortunate that few players are carrying some injuries after a long season. It happens. Mumbai Indians went through that in the last couple of years. The thing about IPL is, you have a lot of backups, other quality players who are part of the franchises. It gives them the opportunity to perform. All these players are coming with 100% confidence. I don’t think it’s an advantage,” he said,
It’s his very first season as a full-time coach and Mahela is still coming to grips with the nature of the tournament. He warned that if players don’t follow certain routines, fatigue could play spoilers. Most of the players come into the tournament on the back of gruelling international seasons.
“This season is going to be tough, the tournament is going to be only five weeks because of the Champions Trophy. We’re going to play our first 6 games in around 18 days, which includes travelling, we need to be mindful of this. There are enough media people out here who will have their own opinions to say after each and every game, each player will have to go through that,” he stated.
The 39-year-old plied his trade for 3 different teams in the IPL before finally taking up the role of a coach at Mumbai Indians this year. Mahela was a fan favourite at Kings XI Punjab, he then moved to the now-defunct Kochi Tuskers Kerala before making his final appearance as an IPL player for the Delhi Daredevils.
“Playing against Mumbai was always a challenge, they had a different DNA to how they approached the game. It was always tough. When the IPL began, it was Mumbai who has some of the best icon players. I am learning the culture and values of the club, it’s quite interesting,” he explained.
A lot of pundits have questioned whether the shortest format of the game truly tests a cricketer’s skills. But Mahela believes T20 is here to stay and reckons it plays a major role in nurturing a player’s talent in pressure situations.
“India started the IPL and it has helped their younger players learn the game much faster, since they play with international players too. The development has been proven at the international level.
“Australia is moving in the same direction, David Warner played T20 cricket before he played Test cricket. You see the difference. England is going in the same direction too. It’s about striking the right balance, how much T20 do we need in a year? The fans will decide that,” he explained.
At the auction, Mumbai Indians relentlessly pursued the services of Ben Stokes, who was eventually bought for a mindboggling Rs.14.5 crore by Rising Pune Supergiants. Jayawardene admits they missed out on a quality player but he’s not stressing about it much.
“We knew that it was going to be a far cry with the budget that we had. He’s a genuine all-rounder who brings a different dimension to the game. He’ll offer something special in the IPL. But it’s about how one performs on the day. We’re looking forward to the challenge,” he signed off.