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Mahela Jayawardene belongs to the classic school of batsmanship where caressing, nudging and guiding the ball are preferred over brute shots. Precisely why sceptics doubted the Sri Lanka captain’s ability to succeed in Twenty20 cricket. However, Jayawardene has proved that success in any format depends on the class of a batsman and his ability to adapt and innovate.
iplt20.com spoke to the Delhi Daredevils batsman about the changes in his game over the years, the reasons behind the success of old warhorses like Rahul Dravid and Jacques Kallis in the IPL, and the new crop of Indian batsmen.
How has the Twenty20 format impacted cricket?
It has given a different dimension to the game. A lot of players have emerged from T20 cricket with different styles; they can now actually play both, one-day cricket and Test cricket. I think the impact has been more in one-day cricket purely because the skill level of individual players has improved. They are expressing themselves as batsmen more freely, playing more shots [and] taking control. And the bowlers have changed as well. They have had to develop new varieties [of bowling] to survive in T20 cricket. They have taken [these new developments] into one-day cricket and Test cricket as well, which is good to see. So it has created an impact skill-wise.
How did you adjust to T20 cricket in its early days? How much of a difference did it make to your game?
The first year or so it is always going to be a challenge [because you] don’t know how you are going to change your game. But it has been a healthy challenge for my career because it gave me an opportunity to change my approach a little bit. It made me work harder and come up with new ways of playing and it’s always been good. When players are thrown these kinds of challenges, it is always healthy – for individuals as well as for teams.
You have said that it is now easy for you to adjust from one format. Do you feel it is as easy for some of the less experienced or younger players?
Even at a young age the first year or so might be tough, but I think [youngsters] will learn quickly if they want to succeed. The game [and] everything [around it] has become so competitive these days. You have so many tours and a lot of cricket being played all over the world, so even the younger guys need to start learning. They might make a few mistakes here and there but they will learn quickly from them and become better cricketers. They have pretty much been thrown in the deep pretty, but it is probably healthy for the game […]
You and other senior players like Rahul Dravid and Jacques Kallis, who are known for being technically sound, have succeeded without playing risky shots or bit-hitting. A youngster like Ajinkya Rahane has done that too. Your thoughts?
Like I said, I never went away from my game; I have just made it a bit more innovative and created more opportunities. I think Jacques and Rahul have done the same thing and that is why they have been very successful in T20 cricket. It should be the same for younger cricketers. You don’t have to be hitting out of your feet to get sixes. It doesn’t matter whether it goes twenty metres further or just two feet from the rope – it is still a six. You are not getting extra runs for that. I was very impressed with the way Ajinkya batted against us and with the way he has batted in this season. I have seen him last year as well when I was playing for Kochi [Tuskers Kerala]; he had a decent season. [Then I] saw him in England with the Indian team, saw him in the one-day competition. He looks a very talented prospect. The opportunities he gets at that level will help him show what a good cricketer he is.
You have been grooming youngsters in your national team as well as in the IPL. How do you and Virender Sehwag go about your mentoring duties?
It’s about giving [youngsters] options rather than telling them what to do. I don’t think it is a healthy thing to tell players do this and do that. It’s not easy for guys to come in and do that. I think what we do is identify their strengths and weaknesses and giving them guidance. We are just giving them a lot of options to [choose from]. They will make mistakes while doing that, which is a good thing. I always feel that players should make mistakes because when they do that, they will learn faster and will start thinking about the game better. It’s always been a theory of mine that you might have fifty percent talent but the rest of it is about how you think and how you approach the game. It is important that you develop that skill as well.
You and Virender Sehwag, who is all about instinct, have contrasting styles of leading. How do you complement each other?
It’s great! In T20 cricket you have to be more instinctive. You don’t have that much time to strategise and think. I learnt that in the first year or so, captaining T20 teams; your thinking process becomes quicker and you have to be a couple of overs ahead all the time. The planning part we do a lot before the game, we don’t do it much during the game. But because Viru is captaining the side, and he is always thinking on his feet, it gives me a bit more time to sit back and think of the bigger picture and maybe come up with a few ideas here and there [regarding] how we could go about [the tournament]. It’s just not just me [but] the other senior guys as well. We always sit back and let Viru go with the fast and furious decision-making and we just sit back and watch the whole thing, how [the game unfolds] and give him options [for] the next two overs or so […] I think [we] complement [each other] brilliantly; I’m not being thrown in that frame of my mind [requiring spot decisions], which is great. We have seen you hold the innings together for your national side. Do you play the same role in the DD team, packed with power-hitters?
Yes, definitely. I naturally [play the anchor] because I don’t have to take too many risks. Depending on the game situation, [I might have to take a few risks sometimes]. Otherwise I have got enough company around me to do all the big hitting for me. I just try and go through the innings and try and finish matches off. When I batted at No. 4, that was the prime thing. Now that I have started to open the batting, being on the other side of Viru is brilliant. He takes control of every situation so easily so I just need to go through and bat. You’ve got guys like KP [Kevin Pietersen] and Ross [Taylor] to follow and Irfan [Pathan] and the rest – they make my job much easier. It will be exciting to see when Davy [David Warner] comes in and joins the team. That will be a different dimension altogether.
How do you adjust and adapt to the different roles that you play in various teams?
I am loving it. It is all about how much you like the game and how much you like to think about the game. Every challenge that is thrown your way is great. It’s good to be in the back seat, think about the game, enjoy it and contribute and all that. We have a great group of guys. When we go into a team meeting, we have a lot of good ideas thrown around and there are a lot of options for us to use. Everyone is quite happy in that environment. Who are the promising local players in DD and in the IPL overall?
With DD I think Umesh [Yadav] has been good for the last couple of years; he looks very strong. I saw him in Australia; he bowled really well, so he is a great prospect. Varun [Aaron] is not that far away from coming back. We are very excited to get him back into the team and he looks a great prospect too. [Shahbaz] Nadeem has been around for a while but he has been a surprise package altogether. He has done really well and shown a lot of maturity, so it’s great. Yogesh [Nagar], again, has been around but now I think he [is fulfilling] his true potential. He is capable of doing much more, he feels confident. It is good for us. It is difficult for us to give some of the youngsters on the bench a game but we try and give them a game somehow so they get the confidence. Unmukt Chand is one of those guys; he is the [India] Under-19 captain [and] I think he looks a very good prospect.
Overall, it’s been the same youngsters in the last three years in IPL who have been consistently doing well. Ajinkya, Manoj Tiwary [and] all those guys are now on the fringes of the Indian team anyway and they are just waiting for that opportunity. I think all in all it’s been good. Every year you see one or two other youngsters who show promise but it’s not just about T20 cricket – it is about how you can consistently sustain performances over a period of time. I don’t know how they go about it in the Ranji Trophy or Duleep Trophy and stuff like that. It is about whether they can keep that standard going for a few years [so they can] get the attention of the Indian selectors.