IPL 2022 – Need to approach IPL as a ‘neutral tournament’, say Mumbai Indians’ Rohit Sharma and Mahela Jayawardene

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Almost 80% of the league stage games will be in and around their home city, but the Mumbai Indians have last played there in 2019

Mumbai Indians are scheduled to play 11 of their 14 league matches in IPL 2022 across three venues in Mumbai, but both Rohit Sharma and Mahela Jayawardene, the captain and coach, believe there will be no home advantage for the five-time IPL champions.

“It’s a relatively new team, a lot of new guys have come in,” Rohit told the media on Wednesday. “Seventy to 80% of the squad hasn’t played in Bombay before. Only myself, Surya [Suryakumar Yadav], [Kieron] Pollard, Ishan [Kishan] and [Jasprit] Bumrah have played in Bombay, others have not played [that much]. So there is no such thing as an added advantage. We all are playing in Bombay after two years. In fact, the other franchises played in Bombay last year. We didn’t get to play.”

Jayawardene echoed that sentiment and pointed out that it was, in fact, the opposition teams who had more experience of playing in Mumbai especially the first half of the last season when Mumbai Indians played their first seven matches at away venues.

“I don’t even remember when last we played in Mumbai,” Jayawardene said. “That was about two-and-half or three years ago. I think a lot of the other teams played here in the last season. And some of the guys who played for Mumbai over the last few years are now with other franchises. So they have that advantage if you look at it.”

It is the pitches, Jayawardene said, that would make it a level-playing field and it was for the teams to ensure their players executed their skills efficiently. While all three venues in and around Mumbai – the Wankhede Stadium, the Brabourne Stadium, and the Dr DY Patil Sports Academy – are red-soil surfaces, the MCA Stadium in Pune is made up of black soil. “We need to approach this as a neutral tournament, play the best cricket possible and be there at the business end of the tournament, which is playoffs and try to achieve what we all want to achieve,” Jayawardene said.

Both Rohit and Jayawardene would be the first to agree that Mumbai’s task for the new season is cut out with their new squad. According to Rohit, the biggest challenge would be to give them clarity about their roles in the side.

“[Tymal] Mills, [Jaydev] Unadkat, and all those guys, yes, they’re new to this franchise, but they’re not new to this game,” Rohit said. “They have played this game for a number of years now, and they know exactly what needs to be done. Our role here will be critical as to how we give them the understanding of what they need to do for us in this team. Because they played for different franchises, different countries. So their role in those countries and those franchises will be different to what we want them to do here. So I think, for us, that will be a challenge. And that is something that we’re working on with these guys. We’re trying to give them the role clarity as to what we are expecting from them, what sort of role they need to play here.

“I think every time you build a new team, this is the challenge that you always face of having a new group of guys, and taking them forward and getting into your system and your style of play. These guys have played the game for so many years, they do understand that aspect of playing for different franchises. This is very much work in progress, we are trying to understand what their strengths are, what they want to execute on the field, and we’re trying to work with them on those aspects.”

Jayawardene compared this scenario to the one they faced after the 2018 mega auction. “We had Bumrah and a completely new bowling attack and we had to rebuild,” Jayawardene said. “But I think our planning and the way we approach the opposition is not going to change. What will change is, because of the new bowlers, their strengths are different to the bowlers we had in the last three years. We always work with the strength of the bowlers and see how we can adjust to that, given the opposition and the conditions. So nothing changes for guys like Rohit, Polly, Bumrah and now with Ishan and Surya. So I think they will do most of the work, of getting these guys to that level of playing and making them calmer out there, making them much more comfortable and creating that environment on and off the field.”

Mumbai’s auction strategy this time around was very intriguing, considering they went full throttle to buy back Kishan for a record sum of INR 15.25 crore on the first day and then signed Jofra Archer for INR 8 crore on the second day despite knowing that the injured England quick will not be available this IPL. Rohit said that the auction was one of the toughest for the franchise, which also had to release brothers Hardik and Krunal Pandya, a duo integral to their success.

Rohit said that the loss of Hardik, who is the new Gujarat Titans captain, was big but the retention rules had put franchises in a tight spot. “Hardik was a very key member for us without a doubt,” Rohit said. “But again, the rules don’t allow us to keep all the players. His contribution to this franchise will never be ignored, or never be unseen. I think he had a huge impact, played a huge role for us to get the success we had while he was here. He played his role to perfection; not many people can play that role.”

Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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