Mahela Jayawardene, head coach of the Mumbai Indians, is pleased with his side’s performance in the first half of the IPL this year. The Mumbai Indians have generally been slow starters, they have suffered losses in the earlier stages of the tournament only to go through a run of good games later on and qualify for the playoffs. This year, however, MI have begun on a very good note, winning 5 of their 7 matches so far in this tournament and are sitting in the second spot of the points table.
“As a coach, you will never be at ease in such a tournament,” said Jayawardene. “But it (the slow starts) was something we were conscious about at the start of the tournament, where we always start slow and then we claw our way into the tournament. So it was something we spoke about.
“We knew the guys going into the tournament were in good form, they had prepared well but it’s all about getting into that awareness, the intelligence for the situations out there. Trying to get them to understand the situations quickly enough and adapt, that’s where we came back strongly after the first few games where we learned a lot very quickly, how to play in Abu Dhabi, which is going to be our main venue, having to play eight games there.
“That has been the key, players understanding how we need to adapt to the change. That whole identification as well, whether they are batters or bowlers – what are the situations they are going to be in and winning those little battles out there with the oppositions. So far, I’m very happy the way the guys have responded to that.”
Other teams have benefited from the slow-natured wickets in the UAE in the recent few matches. Mumbai Indians, on the other hand, have succeeded so far due to the fast bowling trio of Jasprit Bumrah, Trent Boult, and James Pattinson’s combined performances. Therefore, Jayawardene feels that a change in the playing combination that has worked for MI is not necessary at the moment.
He said, “Last year as well, we made that adjustment at the backend of the tournament when we played in pitches that suited the spinners. So far, the fast bowlers have had a bigger role to play in the tournament, whether it is the powerplay, the middle overs or the back end. We’re trying to keep that balance. As long as they are making the contributions and they are penetrating the opposition batting line-ups, it doesn’t matter what kind of surfaces we play on. The quality of the fast bowling line-up that we have, they are always going to create opportunities.
“We have a couple of good spinners operating right now in the playing XI. And there are a couple of guys who are in the wings, who we might look at depending on the opposition and match-ups. Depending on the conditions, we might, but right now I’m happy with the combination that we have, seeing the way we have operated.”
Due to the success of MI in the first half, the franchise hasn’t been able to test their bench. Jayawardene said on the same, “It’s about creating a culture within the group where everyone understands that there are players who are going to go out in the middle but the other guys are also as important as anyone else in that group.
“They are the ones who keep the guys on the field on their toes because these are very good players who we have got on our bench. At any time, they are ready to go out on the field and perform. It makes a healthy rivalry within the group. Everybody is focussed, they are prepared for each and every game.
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“If we feel they (the players in the XI) are physically not capable or whether they are not mentally fresh. We will make sure we manage those workloads. So that is one of the things for which we have got a lot of good players on the bench to make sure they are ready to go at any given time. It’s a great headache to have but it’s also a good, healthy competition that we’ve created. What we try and do is try to keep them fresh and prepared, not push them too much but not let them relax too much either.
“It’s a two-month tournament, it’s not too much of an ask from these professionals. We just have to make sure they are at the top of their game. It’s also communication between the management and the players, trying to figure out issues and resolve it before it can be a problem for the two.”