Rohit Sharma: ‘We are proud of being defending champions’

The Mumbai Indians captain and coach Mahela Jayawardene look ahead to the new IPL season.

Rohit Sharma (left) and Mahela Jayawardene at a pre-season press conference in Mumbai.   -  Vivek Bendre

Rohit Sharma’s credentials as an Indian Premier League player for 10 years has been remarkable.

From the start of the league in 2008, he has played 159 matches — 114 for Mumbai Indians and 75 as captain. He has won 46 matches and most importantly, three titles. He has also scored 4207 runs, third overall behind Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli.

On April 7, Rohit will embark upon a campaign to obtain a fourth title with his team. His ally in this endeavour will be a new coach — Mahela Jayawardene. At a pre-season media conference here on Thursday, Rohit and Mahela stressed upon the importance of retaining the core team that featured in the title win last year, i.e., retaining Hardik Pandya and Jasprit Bumrah before the auction, and getting on board West Indian Kieron Pollard using the right-to-match option.

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They also spoke about the nature of the wicket at the Wankhede stadium that tends to play slow and low, the way to manage Australian seamer Pat Cummins, and the importance of a good start against Chennai Super Kings.

Rohit said he would like to spring a surprise on Saturday (for its tourney opener) in the form of an undisclosed opening pair and middle-order. Among his options, he did name West Indian Evin Lewis and Ishan Kishan, though.

‘It’s a responsibility’

Is Rohit under pressure as captain of the defending champion?

He shrugged off the burden. He said, “There is always pressure when you take the field for any team; be it a franchise team or a national team. As an individual I would say I am fortunate to play cricket and I have to perform and play well for the club and the national team. So the pressure to perform is always going to be there, what’s important is how you deal with it. IPL cricket is all different in terms of adapting to different conditions, getting used to different players coming into your team and getting the right players in the park. That’s the challenge for a leader. As an individual, I don’t see it as pressure, it’s a responsibility that’s in front of you. We are the defending champions and we are very proud of that.”

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Mahela spoke about the team’s new look. “It was important for us to maintain the core. Some of our guys instrumental in our campaign in the past will be with other teams. We have invested in a group of players looking at the future. Lasith Malinga is with team helping the young group, Harbhajan is with [Chennai Super Kings]. That's how the game evolves, another generation takes over. That’s the reality and we have to be ready for.”

DRS a ‘helping hand’

Mahela and Rohit welcomed the introduction of the Decision Review System (DRS) in the league, and the mid-season transfers. They said, “It's good. This is the evolution in a franchise model tournament going forward. And the mid-season transfers is a great option. Mistakes happen and DRS is a helping hand. I am pleased with that. DRS is good to get the right decision.”

When asked how the absence of Steve Smith (Rajasthan Royals) and David Warner (Sunrisers Hyderabad) will affect the league and whether Mumbai Indians would start as favourite, Mahela said: “These are things that we can't control. It’s a loss for the tournament not to have those two players (Smith and Warner) but there could have been injuries and [the league could have] lost those two good players. The team combinations have changed after the auction. We are going to start from scratch. Like Rohit said, we are proud to be defending champions. We will take one game at a time. We don't see ourselves as favourites; we see ourselves as equally good and striving to be better than the others.”