Mumbai-Indians-Nita-Ambani-with-cricketers-Sachin-Tendulkar-Adity-Tare-Rohit-Sharma-Ricky-Ponting-Lasith-Malinga
Nita Ambani (Third from left) considers the two IPL titles won the Mumbai Indians as the high points © IANS

Nita Ambani, owner of Mumbai Indians (MI) shares her opinion about the upcoming season of Indian Premier League (IPL) and more in this exclusive interview to Daily News and Analysis (DNA). Here are the excerpts:

DNA: Mumbai Indians  did not fare well in the first two seasons, but have performed consistently from 2010. What has changed? And how has your journey been as team owner?

Nita Ambani (NA):  I would say the transformation started from 2010 after we returned from South Africa (after IPL 2). That’s when we began to build a character around Mumbai Indians of being ‘aggressive yet responsible’ in their approach to the game. The results were almost instant. We were IPL 2010 finalists, CLT20 champions in 2011, IPL champions in 2013 and CLT20 champions the same year. I have truly enjoyed my association with Mumbai Indians. It’s been six long years of our passion, hard work, energy and most of all, teamwork. Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) vs Mumbai Indians (MI) IPL 2015 Match 1 Preview: Champions

DNA: How much has the team evolved or changed over the years?

NA: Today, Mumbai Indians are known as the most formidable sports brand in India. Fans have stood by us, no matter how the team has fared. They have connected with the identity and values of the team more than the mere match result. This shows the robustness of the trust built by the brand. From being the most watched team on TV to being most preferred partner for international brands, the journey so far has been good. Defending Champions KKR face formidable MI in IPL 2015 opener

DNA: We know of players going through pressure. As owner of such a high-profile team, do you also go through pressure during the IPL?

NA:To be honest, as a fan as well as an individual who loves the sport and her team so much, yes I do feel the pressure. But I guess that’s what sports is all about. The passion for excellence overrides such pressure situations. It brings the best out of you. A game like T20 where the dynamics on the field can change in a moment, pressure comes embedded into the game. How you deal with pressure decides and brings out the true character of your team. IPL 2015: CSK, KKR, RCB, KXIP, MI, RR, SRH, DD full team details in IPL 8

DNA: Mumbai Indians won their first IPL title in the sixth edition (2013). Did you realistically expect them to win earlier or did the team need time to settle down and get into the new style of T20 cricket before winning?

NA: We missed the 2010 title by a whisker, but we tasted our first success in 2011 by bringing home the CLT20 title. We then followed it up with the 2013 IPL title. And then finally, we hit a double with another CLT20 trophy the same year. As I said, the turnaround began from 2010 onwards, when we built the character and the brand of cricket we wanted to play. Indian Premier League 2015 schedule: IPL 8 match time table with venue details

DNA: The core of the team has been the same for some time. Are you happy with the team composition?

NA:That’s one aspect we have worked on and are mindful of our selection. Over the years, seniors like Rohit [Sharma], [Kieron] Pollard, Bhajji [Harbhajan Singh], [Lasith] Malinga and [Pragyan] Ojha have become core pillars. They bring continuity to the team. They know what it takes to win and what they have to do to lead the team to success. Sachin Tendulkar guides Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli ahead of IPL 2015

DNA: How closely are you involved in the selection of players at the auction?

NA: It’s a combined efforts put in by all — captain, mentor, coach. The selections are done on merit and based on thorough research, analysis and round-the-year talent scouting. Mumbai Indians have done well at Eden Gardens, says Rohit Sharma

DNA: You have some of the finest cricketers in your team and some of the greats as support staff. You also have two of the finest players who have ever played the game — Sachin Tendulkar and Anil Kumble — as icon and mentor. What more can you ask for?

NA: True. It is a privilege for Mumbai Indians to have some of the best cricketers. Sachin Tendulkar is truly a cricketing legend and has been an integral part of Mumbai Indians from the start of IPL. He is a valued founding member and has contributed significantly to the building of Mumbai Indians as a strong team and global brand. Sachin is Mumbai Indians’ icon and continues to provide overall strategic guidance to the team. Rohit Sharma confident of Mumbai Indians’ good showing

DNA: Anil Kumble is another legend in the sporting world. In respect to his wishes, we have requested him to lead and guide Reliance’s initiatives in other sports as well. He continues to be the chief mentor of Mumbai Indians and is available for any guidance to any member.

NA:We also have Ricky Ponting as the head coach this year. As a captain and player during 2013, Ricky has been a thorough professional in his approach to the game and the way he motivates others around him. For someone like Ricky, who led Australia to two World Cup victories, to step down from captaincy for the team’s goal, is a selfless and commendable act. I think Mumbai Indians are lucky to have such legends amongst us. It is a great opportunity for the youngsters in the team to learn from them and pick up the nuances of the game. Mumbai Indians use drone technology to enhance fan experience

DNA: We see your son Akash showing keen interest in the team. What role does he play?

NA: Akash has evolved over the years from being a fan to an able administrator. He has two skills that are key to managing the game — good analytical skills and a calm and composed demeanour. I think Akash was fabulous in leading Mumbai Indians on the auction table this time and is ready to take bigger responsibilities. Mumbai Indians have a balanced side, believes Rohit Sharma

DNA: How do you manage your time as the wife of a successful industrialist, mother, managing the Indian Super League (ISL) and running a cricket league team, running an international school and hospital besides social work?

NA: It has been quite hectic over the years, but I love doing all these. Whatever project I take up, I do so with all my heart. This, in turn, drives me towards excellence, pushes me to deliver more. As far as time management is concerned, I find that the more I do, the more I can do. I think if you find meaning in your work, it is no longer work in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, work becomes a passion that grips you and you just flow with it. Ricky Ponting: Opening match against defending champions a great challenge

DNA: What has been your favourite moment with MI?

NA: It’s hard to pick out one favourite moment. The title victories are sweet memories, no doubt. But more than winning or losing, it’s the way the team exhibits its character on the field, against heavy odds, that brings life to the game. I still get goosebumps thinking of the barely-believable run chase against Rajasthan Royals (195 in 14.4 overs) in the last league group match last year or a similar win in the 2013 CLT20 against Perth Scorchers (152 in 13.2 overs) at the Kotla. That’s the character of the brand of cricket Mumbai Indians have built. Every run is a moment and every moment we are running. IPL 2015: Rohit Sharma happy with new faces in Mumbai Indians camp

DNA: As an owner, how do you see the other IPL teams?

NA: I think all the teams are equally competitive. T20 is an unpredictable game. That’s the beauty of the IPL and that’s what makes it so interesting. All eight teams have matured over the years and have developed their own strength before entering the tournament. It’s a great competition to be in where everyone starts with a fair chance of victory. Mumbai Indians’ jersey for IPL 2015 unveiled!

DNA: Are you planning to start any more leagues?

NA: Right now, the focus is on the Reliance Foundation’s grassroots initiative — Young Champs in football with ISL and junior basketball initiatives with the NBA. The scouting for Young Champs is currently on as we speak, and soon we will be recruiting the first batch of children for the Young Champs academy. We had a great start to ISL last year and we would like to build it as a truly homegrown professional as well as a globally competitive league. While we do so, I feel grassroots is the key to further achieving our target of creating and nurturing the next generation of footballers in the country. Mumbai Indians in IPL 2015: A statistical preview

DNA: How satisfying was the inaugural ISL and what are the areas that can be looked into for the next season?

NA: I think no amount of gratitude to the country’s football fans will be enough here. We had a terrific start and must thank the fans for their support. Every city, every stadium came to life. The players, the clubs and the entire football fraternity did a fantastic job. Like in any individual game, the success of ISL is because of teamwork between fans, players, clubs and organisers. Am I glad, through ISL we could seed the revival of the beautiful game back in India. MI in IPL 2015: Rohit’s men approach upcoming season with renewed vigour

(G Krishnan qualified as an umpire from Tamil Nadu Cricket Association in 1997 before making sports journalism as a career. His other interests include wildlife and reading. Krishnan is Principal Correspondent of DNA, where the article first appeared)