Mumbai Indians (MI): Is the Decision to Appoint Mahela Jayawardene as Head Coach a Wise One?

Mahela Jayawardene joins an illustrious duo of international cricketers who have gone on to become coaches of Indian Premier League (IPL) franchises.

As a coach, whether he tastes the level of success he enjoyed as a player for Srilanka during his 18-year-long international career which came to an end in March 2015, remains to be seen. But Mahela the person is revered in the cricketing fraternity and the former Srilankan cricketer was, along with the likes of Kumar Sangakkara, Sanath Jayasuriya, Muttiah Muralitharan, Chaminda Vaas, etc., a vital cog for the Lankan Lions since the start of the 21st century.

He was integral to what Srilanka achieved during the last decade and a half and a great servant of the Srilankan Cricket throughout. Mahela led his nation to the Final of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2007, which was won by Australia, and struck a magnificent 88-ball 103 in the Final of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011, which the MS Dhoni-led India went on to win.

These two disappointments in the 2007 and 2011 World Cup finals sandwiched another for Mahela, as Srilanka lost to Pakistan in the Final of the ICC World Twenty20 (WT20) 2009, by eight wickets at the Lord’s. And finally, after three disappointments in three consecutive finals of major ICC tournaments, Mahela was able to bag the winner’s medal in the 2014 edition of the ICC World Twenty20 (WT20), which was nothing less than totally deserved.

Mahela Jayawardene was on Friday (November 18th, 2016) announced as the head coach of the Mumbai Indians (MI), who have won the IPL title twice (2013 and 2015) in the last four years, replacing Ricky Ponting, whose two-year contract is said to be “coming to a close.”


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A media release issued by the franchise on Friday said: “Mahela Jayawardene’s appointment has come in the wake of Ricky Ponting – coach for the previous two years – contract coming to a close.”

The former Srilankan captain and a batting great during his playing days, said after his appointment as Mumbai Indians coach:

“I am very excited by the appointment and glad that the Mumbai Indians management appreciated my presentation and ideas. In what is a new chapter in my career, I will be striving hard to bring them [Mumbai Indians] more on-field success and joy”.

This article assesses MI’s decision to appoint Mahela as their new coach, with the tenth edition of the IPL (IPL 2017) still a fair way away.

Is Mahela Jayawardene the ‘Right Man’ for the Mumbai Indians?

Daniel Vettori and Ricky Ponting himself, are the ‘illustrious’ and accomplished international cricketers who have gone on to coach an IPL franchise and have enjoyed a good level of success in their new challenges.

While the Australian proved that he was a born winner, by overseeing the Mumbai Indians to a dramatic title victory in IPL 2015, in what was also his very first assignment as a coach, his Kiwi counterpart has made the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) a consistent and a mentally tough side, getting them to reach the playoffs in IPL 2015 and the Final of IPL 2016. This, after many had written RCB off due to some poor showings during the league phase of these two seasons.


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Mahela has plenty of IPL experience from playing for the Kings XI Punjab (KXIP), a team which he represented from 2008-2010, for the newly-formed Kochi Tuskers in IPL 2011 and the Delhi Daredevils (DD) in the fifth and sixth editions of the IPL.

In addition, Mahela played 55 T20Is for Srilanka, meaning he knows how the T20 format works and can, through his inputs and ideas, help the Mumbai Indians become a better side. Because the Srilankan played a lot more T20 cricket than his predecessor had, he is a lot more equipped for the new chapter in his career and fits the bill perfectly as far as MI are concerned.

Ponting, on the other hand, played only 10 IPL games over two seasons (2008 with the Kolkata Knight Riders and 2013 with the Mumbai Indians) and he did not play many T20Is (17) either, during his playing career.

‘For’ Ponting, because he had won three ICC Cricket World Cups (as a non-captain in 1999 and as a captain in 2003 and 2007), was a very shrewd captain, had the winning nous, and lest we forget that he was a batting great of his era, he could command great respect from the MI players, after being appointed as the head coach ahead of IPL 2015. The decision to appoint the Australian as Mumbai Indians head coach was a good one as well, back in December 2014, after the previous coach John Wright had moved on to be a talent scout.

The T20 format, in general, is such that the focus is not so much on batting or bowling techniques, but on feeling good and getting your mindset right.

And, because T20 leagues such as the IPL, the Australian Big Bash League (BBL), the Caribbean Premier League (CPL), etc. are played in short, six-week durations, aspects such as team bonding and ability to quickly adapt—to the prevalent conditions away from home, in particular—are prioritised the most in the lead-up to the season and even while the season is in progress.

Mahela, with his leadership qualities, the game nous and a calm demeanour, which are all necessary traits for any coach, can mould and nurture the youngsters in the MI setup and also get the most out of the core players—the likes of Rohit Sharma, Kieron Pollard, Harbhajan Singh, and Lasith Malinga—in the MI squad.

Coaching the Mumbai Indians next IPL season will be Mahela Jayawardene’s first taste of being the head coach of a cricket team. The 39-year-old Mahela was involved in coaching albeit in a different capacity last year, as England had appointed him as a consultant ahead of their three-Test series against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in October 2015. And Paul Farbrace, who is England’s assistant coach, was impressed with Mahela’s insights and personality and the Srilankan’s communication was deemed “outstanding.”

From Mahela Jayawardene’s perspective, he has a really good crop of players to work with and the Mumbai Indians have won the IPL twice as well. But the challenge for the new coach is to make Mumbai a more consistent IPL side who play well throughout and not just be good in patches. The primary focus next season has to be on winning back the title from Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH), but in the bigger scheme of things, Mahela has to find a way to make Mumbai a constantly evolving unit.