Mahela Jayawardene    Getty Images
Mahela Jayawardene Getty Images

Three-time winners and defending champions Mumbai Indians do not want to be tagged as favourites in the 11th edition of the Indian Premier League, insisted coach Mahela Jayawardene here today.

“We are going to start from scratch. We are proud to be the defending champions, but we don’t see ourselves as favourites. We see ourselves as equally good and striving to be better than the others. We will take it one game at a time,” said the former Sri Lanka skipper at a press conference. “The combinations have changed after the (mega players’) auction in all franchises. Rajasthan Royals, Delhi Daredevils, Kings XI Punjab – all these teams have gone in with new players which we have to be aware of, mindful of,” pointed out the former Lanka batting stylist.

MI are to open their campaign against arch-rivals and two time winners Chennai Super Kings – who are making a return to the tournament after serving a two-year suspension – at their home, Wankhede Stadium, here on April 7. Talking about his team, Jayawardene was pleased that MI was able to maintain its core although it will be without two of its key bowlers – his compatriot Lasith Malinga, who has stopped playing but will be with the team as its mentor, and off spinner Harbhajan Singh – who will turn out for CSK.

“It was important for us to maintain the core. We have invested in a group of players, looking at the future. It’s about gelling together. Mali (Malinga) is here with us helping the young group. Harbhajan is with CSK. That’s the way the game evolves and the next generation takes over. That’s the reality we have to be ready for.”

The Sri Lankan said the workload of Australian pacer Pat Cummins, set to join the squad tomorrow after an impressive stint in the lost Test series against South Africa, will be monitored as it was a long tournament. “Cummins is someone who we have to manage during the long tournament like we did last year with all our fast bowlers.”

He also praised the captaincy of Rohit Sharma and the fearless bowling of Jasprit Bumrah. “He’s (Rohit) got good leadership skills. He’s guided a lot of younger guys. They have matured quickly. He’s getting the best out of everybody. That’s probably why he’s so successful as captain in franchise cricket.

“Bumrah – I don’t know whether he understands the word pressure. He’s quite comfortable with the role he plays for us as well as what he does for India. Bums loves the challenge. Last year there was that super over (v Gujarat Lions). We had Mali, but we went to Bumrah,” he gushed.

He also hailed Hardik Pandya’s bowling and said the team had plenty of options with New Zealander Mitchell McClenaghan also in the mix. “Hardik has come a long way with the ball for the national team as a bowler. He’s a much improved bowler. We have lot of options. McClenaghan has been very successful, but at the same time has been struggling with injuries and form over the last 12 months. Probably other franchises too had the same thought process (during auction in which he was not bought).

“But when we had the injury for (Australian pacer Jason) Behrendorff, we picked Mitch. He is someone we have worked with and he knows MI culture. It was an easy decision for us. He’s come back strong. He looks healthy in the net sessions,” Jayawardene said.