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Mahela Jayawardene takes us through the Mumbai Indians culture

The Mumbai Indians can say with pride that they are the winners of five Indian Premier League trophies. However, their consistent victories have come from a lot of grit, preparation and hard work. Who better than Head Coach Mahela Jayawardene to give us an insight into what goes on in the functionality of the team?

Ahead of the IPL 2021 opener in Chennai, Mahela spoke to Hindustan Times, throwing light at how the team prepares that allows them such massive success rates.

Below are some excerpts from the interview with the Sri Lankan great, the MasterMInd of the team since 2017:

Plan for IPL 2021

“If we are not motivated to keep getting better, keep evolving and keep challenging ourselves, I think there is no point for us getting together as a group. We will keep challenging the players. In sport, there is always room for improvement. You can’t be complacent.”

“Every year, we are thrown different challenges. Playing the tournament in UAE was a challenge because that’s a place Mumbai Indians haven’t done well in the past. We had to adjust to all those conditions. This year as well, we don’t get to play at our home venue. That itself throws a different challenge to us.”

“So we will adapt to all that. I think every season these are the challenges that motivate each and every individual in the group. We create those challenges and we try our best to go through those processes. As a group we try and keep it very simple. It’s all about competing on a daily basis and trying to do our best.”

On MI batsmen’s incredible six-hitting abilities

“We emphasise a lot on different aspects. Power-hitting is also part of that. We do have some amazing hitters batting at No. 5 and 6 for us (Hardik Pandya and Kieron Pollard), and even the top order guys like Quinny, Rohit, Surya, Ishan, all have the ability to hit sixes.”

“In T20 cricket, it’s an advantage but what we have done well is while getting those big hits going, we managed to stick to the basics as well--rotating the strike and hitting those gaps. So the risk management has been pretty good as well. When you do that, the ability to go big at the back-end of any innings gives you a better advantage.”

A peek into Mumbai Indians’ scouting network

“We have a group of individuals who work throughout the year, watching games, spotting players. Not only locally but we do have the same kind of network overseas as well. And it’s not just instant decision-making. Marco Jansen (South African left-arm pacer) is a classic example.”

“We have monitored him for the last three years. Then he was a 17-18 year old. We kept monitoring him and picked him the same time he was picked for South Africa (Test squad for Pakistan in January). I don’t think there are secrets to scouting. It’s just pure hard work and finding the right people who have the ability to pick talent.”

“You have to trust their instincts and their hard work needs to be acknowledged. It’s a process. For me, it’s brilliant to have that input coming in, knowing that they are turning each and every stone to find this talent. We monitor them and when we decide we need to invest in them, we go ahead and do that.”

The role of data in the evolution of Mumbai Indians

“Quite a bit. Data is obviously being used by pretty much all the teams. But for us, we realised that finding that data that makes us different or gives us the edge is the key. There is plenty of stuff out there. You need to customise the data for the group of players you have and make sure that DNA runs through the entire squad. Those are things we look at.”

Is Mumbai Indians the best when it comes to tapping players’ potentials?

“I think so. We look at a lot of aspects, not just the skillset or the overall package of a player. Because it’s important that those players have that cricket intelligence at a certain level as well. We push them to think about the game, think about the situation and then the skill set comes into play.”

“We always feel certain players add value to the squad. We have options and we go with that instinct and try and get players (in the auction). That’s how we got Quinton de Kock from RCB or Trent Boult (from Delhi Capitals). We spent a lot of money on Ishan (Kishan). I still remember my first question at the press conference after that 2018 auction was that if we were mad to spend ₹6 crores on a young Indian wicketkeeper-batsman who wasn’t proven at that time. But we saw the potential.”

“Those are the things the Mumbai Indians franchise always try to do. These are collective thought processes. We go through a lot of discussions to come to those kinds of decision-making processes and we back ourselves once we make those decisions to make sure those players get to that potential and add value to the team. That’s the most important thing.”

Does MI take credit for helping players make their international debuts?

“I don’t think we can take full credit for that. I think we are also a part of that process. Everyone is a part of the process. Our focus is only on T20 cricket. Player development happens on various aspects as well. I think we are just contributing to that cause and process.”

“Most of the player development on our part is when domestic Indian players come into a squad like this, they are surrounded by a lot of experienced players. Associating them, the way the mindset is set up, tactically how we do things, is an advantage for any young player. Then they start seeing the game in a much different way.”

On MI’s retention policy, especially with Pollard staying for over 10 years

“Not just KP (Kieron Pollard), we have Lasith (Malinga) as well who has spent over a decade at Mumbai Indians. We like to have that core group, guys who have those leadership qualities, who are going to add value on and off the field. It’s not just about their personal performances. They have made other players better with their influence and challenged the younger players to improve.”

“When they are adding value, it’s a much easier decision to keep those leaders in the group. Because you need leaders on the field. It’s difficult if you don’t have guys that understand the culture that we have created. I have been here for only four years but there are other coaches with the franchise for the last 10 years who have done this type of work, I’m just adding value. That’s the culture Mumbai Indians wanted.”

Five IPL titles overall, and going into the league as the defending champions, MI has a lot to play for this IPL. The think tank has worked hard to bring out the best in every player, as explained by Mahela.

We sure are excited to see all of this come into play when Mumbai Indians take the field tomorrow in the IPL 2021 opener.