Mumbai Indians captain Rohit Sharma will continue to open along with Quinton de Kock for the upcoming IPL, head coach Mahela Jayawardene confirmed on Thursday. Mumbai also have Australia's Chris Lynn in the squad this season but given record of the Sharma-de Kock combination, Jayawardene said there was no need to "fix something that wasn't broken".
"Lynn is a great addition to the squad, but the combination of Rohit and Quinton did a phenomenal job for us last season," Jayawardene said in a virtual press conference from Abu Dhabi. "They complement each other well, they're consistent and both of them are experienced. They're good leaders as well, so why would you want to fix something that isn't broken? We will continue to go with that.
"Lynn as an option gives us flexibility in the squad and that's what we've always done. We try and add more value to the team, give more options so that we can be unpredictable when it comes to tournaments and big matches. Quinton and Rohit as a combination have been brilliant.
Sharma, who has also batted at Nos. 3 and 4 for Mumbai in the past, said he enjoys batting "at the top of the order" and would continue to do so, but the team would also keep the batting line-up flexible.
"I opened for the entire tournament last year and will continue to do that," Sharma said. "As a team, we keep all options open. I'm happy to do what the team wants. I enjoy batting at the top of the order and I've been doing it for a while. But even when I play for India, the message to the management is to not close any door and keep all the options open, so I'll do the same here."
Sharma and de Kock had opened in 15 of Mumbai's 16 games last season as the team won the record fourth title. Their tally of 565 runs including five half-century stands at an average of 37.66 was behind only David Warner and Jonny Bairstow's 791 for Sunrisers Hyderabad.
Lynn, on the other hand, managed only 138 runs while opening for the St Kitts and Nevis Patriots in CPL 2020. He averaged a mere 17.25 from nine innings, with a highest score of 34.
Sharma, however, hasn't played any cricket since early February when he injured his left calf during the T20I series in New Zealand. He later said in an interview to PTI that coming back to cricket without having held a bat for over six months would be "a bit challenging". de Kock, Mumbai's leading run-scorer last season, will also be playing his first game since March.
With the IPL being played in the UAE this time, Sharma emphasised on how conditions - including the heat and the expected slowness of pitches - would play a crucial role as he expects pitches to "tire down" as the tournament progresses. Along with international experience of some of their players in the UAE, Mumbai also have Lynn, Kieron Pollard and Mitchell McClenaghan in the squad who have featured in the PSL across Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi.
"It's about understanding pitches and conditions, that is crucial so we are putting a lot of emphasis on that," Sharma said. "Eventually the pitches will play a big part, so understanding and adapting quickly is important.
"The weather is so hot and humid, the wickets will tire down. Having played the Asia Cup couple of years ago here, I certainly experienced that between the first game and the final there was a lot of difference in how the pitch was behaving. We will certainly expect the same here. It's going to be a long tournament, we know how many matches are being played at each venue so the wickets will definitely tire down, and the slowness of the pitch will be a big factor. For us, all the talks happening in our group are based on all of that: we need to adapt how to play cricket on those kinds of pitches, what lengths to bowl, which shots to pick, what will be the percentage shot and ball.
"It's not just the spinners but I think even the seamers will have a lot of assistance. Not the seam or swing movement, but there will be some reverse swing that we're expecting. The way I look at it, we've got good balance and variety in our bowling attack. And same goes for the batting as well, you need to understand shots that will give you runs on this pitch. It's not just about hitting boundaries and sixes, it's also about the other option that you can take to make sure you reach an effective score."
Mumbai lack a bit of experience in their spin department, though, compared to the other IPL teams. Krunal Pandya is their most experienced spinner with 55 IPL caps but the others in the squad - Rahul Chahar, Jayant Yadav and Anukul Roy - have a combined IPL experience of only 29 games. Jayawardene said spinners would be "more effective" in the UAE conditions, and both he and Sharma sounded excited about the uncapped 21-year-old Punjab legspinner Prince Balwant Rai, whom they bought in the auction last year.
"We've got a youngster in the auction this year - Prince Balwant Rai, he looks quite exciting," Sharma said. "Anukul has been part of the team for a while so we have a few options. We've got some quality spinners in our group. Hopefully they can explore conditions if need be and all these guys have experience playing domestic cricket in India."
The Mumbai camp is based out of Abu Dhabi, where they are scheduled to play eight of their 14 league games including the IPL opener against the Chennai Super Kings on Saturday.