Mahela Jayawardene, head coach of the Mumbai Indians, speaks Ryan Harris, bowling coach of Delhi Capitals.
Mahela Jayawardene, head coach of the Mumbai Indians, speaks Ryan Harris, bowling coach of Delhi Capitals. Image Credit: Vipin Pawar / Sportzpics for BCCI

Dubai: Coach Mahela Jayawardene has confided that four-time kings and champions Mumbai Indians can only get better from here on in the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL).

Putting out a sort of mid-term report card, Jayawardene — who took over as coach from Australian Ricky Ponting last season — insisted that Mumbai have all the prerequisites for a successful defence of their crown.

“We’ve got a good team and a strong bench strength. That’s a good headache to have in any team as it makes up for some healthy competition between players and the team benefits in the end,” Jayawardene said in a media interaction on Thursday.

“Right now, we are creating a culture within the group and everyone understands that everyone is important. A good bench strength leads to a healthy rivalry within the group and we monitor their focus and during practice or otherwise and make the changes in the team, whenever needed. Honestly, this is a great headache to have. On our part, we try keep the players fresh and prepared. It is a two-month tournament and not a big ask for these professionals.”

Heading into their match against Kolkata Knight Riders on Friday, Mumbai will be looking at their sixth win in an attempt to reclaim top place ahead of Delhi Capitals in the eight-team standings. And now with a winning mentality in place, Jayawardene was keen on seeing a gradual evolution of the side while paying attention to the minor aspects of the sport.

“If at all there is one area to work on then it would be us to keep pushing our energy levels while out there in the middle. A batter can have a good day or a bad day. So can it be with the bowlers. But keeping the energy levels up or being a bit more intimidating on the field, that’s very much in our control and we need to work on this aspect all the time,” he said.

“There will be some days when players won’t be able to deliver at the same level. But, there’s nothing that should keep the energy levels low. We’ve been very good playing cricket, but the energy level is an area that I am not really satisfied with and I will keep pushing for this even more.”

Jayawardene was also pleased with the way the team had stepped up their growth chart over the past seven games so far. “Our start was a bit wobbly due to defeat in the first game, even though we played some good cricket [against Chennai Super Kings]. Probably we didn’t have the instinct to finish things off. But we got much better in the second [against KKR]. In the third game, we showed inconsistency and yet we came from nowhere and pushed it into the Super Over [loss against RCB],” he said.

“Since then, we have been consistent as we are trying to improve in all departments and play consistent cricket. You can’t really compare things after two losses from seven matches. But overall, I am happy as a coach, but there are definitely areas we can improve and keep on improving. It I always going to be get tougher and tougher heading into the back end of the tournament.”

Termed slow starters due to their tendency to falter at the beginning of each IPL edition, Jayawardene was happy with the team learning to adapt this time on the slower UAE pitches. “As a coach you are never going to be at ease in a tournament of this level. Yes, we were conscious about the slow starts and how we took time to get into our stride to then claw our way in. So, this is something we spoke about and we knew the guys were in good form and they had prepared well. Ultimately, it was about handling situations out there in the middle and a bit more intelligently,” the 43-year-old said.

“The whole idea was trying to get the players to understand on-field situations quickly enough and adapt. And that’s where we came back strongly after those first few games where we learnt a lot very quickly. That has been the key with the guys understanding on how we need to adapt change along with their role identification. So far, I am very happy the way the guys have responded to this.”

The former Sri Lankan captain wasn’t too concerned that Mumbai could lose their momentum especially with bigger breaks during the course of the tournament. “It all depends on how you look at it. In the first half, the temperatures and humidity levels were very high. So having a few breaks in the middle always helped as we could regroup and get the guys going. Yes, you can say that we may lose a bit of momentum, but I think the players understand and they have been responding well to the challenges that we put across to them both mentally and physically,” Jayawardene said.

“So having breaks is a good thing but having it can be an issue especially while having a good run as it halts the momentum. But this is something that we will talk about. The focus is there and we approach each game with the same mindset. The next three or four games are going to be crucial and we are looking forward to them.”