Jayawardene praise for 'special' England batting performance
Mahela Jayawardene has praised the character shown by England's young batsmen after they pulled off the second-highest successful run chase in T20 internationals. Led by Joe Root's 83 from 44 balls, England achieved a target of 230 to beat South Africa with two balls to spare in Mumbai and Jayawardene, who has been working with the team as a batting consultant, called it a "special" performance.
Jayawardene, who was part of the Sri Lanka side that won the previous World T20 in 2014, has now concluded his part-time role with England and joined ESPNcricinfo's Match Day analysis line-up, and he played down his part in their success.
"To be honest, I haven't done much," he said. "When you work with a talented group of players, and when they do something like that, everyone thinks you had a huge role to play… but I've really enjoyed working with the England boys, they're a young team with not much experience in international T20s but they want to play a brand of cricket which they have been playing for 12 months and they are still finding their way.
"It was a great win last night, I really enjoyed it. In the dressing room it was nervous moments at points and at the halfway mark obviously everyone was disappointed. But they showed a lot of character to regroup and go out and the way they played was something special."
A former Sri Lanka captain, Jayawardene retired from international cricket for good after last year's World Cup and first worked with England on their tour of the UAE before returning for the World T20. His relationship with the coach, Trevor Bayliss, goes back to their time together with Sri Lanka and Jayawardene credited the Australian with helping to change England's approach.
While chasing down 230 requires a capacity for powerful ball-striking, Jayawardene identified the "smartness" of Root and the captain, Eoin Morgan, as a key factor, as well as a degree of freedom and flexibility that has allowed the rest of the top six - openers Jason Roy and Alex Hales, as well as Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler - to flourish.
"This is something that they have developed since Trevor Bayliss has taken over, they have put a lot of emphasis on white-ball cricket, not just T20 but one-day cricket as well," Jayawardene said. "They've managed to get a group of young cricketers, looking towards the next 50-over World Cup as well. It's not just power hitting, the way Joe batted in that middle period and the way Buttler controlled a tough situation when they lost Morgan. They're still finding ways of doing things, they definitely have the power if they need to use it but [they are] trying to be much more structured going about things.
"They have given licence to Jason because that's the way he bats, Alex Hales still hasn't really found his rhythm but he showed something yesterday. They can use Stokes anywhere because the flexibility is there, he plays pace and spin well. What they have got is the smartness of Joe Root and Eoin Morgan, who's got the experience of playing in the subcontinent, in that middle. Jos Buttler has been in great form as well, so they've got six batsmen who can change a game and they do bat deep as well, so they've got the freedom to go out and express themselves."
While acknowledging there would be challenges ahead if England were to progress, Jayawardene was impressed by the players' willingness to improve. Chief among them is Root, described by Morgan as "the most complete batsmen we've ever had". Despite having played just 14 T20I innings - and 39 in the shortest format overall - he has become central to their World T20 plans and Jayawardene was impressed by his attitude to batting, calling him a "very skillful cricketer and a very bright cricketer as well".
"He wants to learn new things and to evolve as a cricketer," Jayawardene said. "What you have to understand is that Joe hasn't played that much T20 cricket, he hasn't had that much experience of playing in the subcontinent, he's still finding his way.
"So for him to go out in a tough situation - probably the situation dictated the way he had to play, started slowly but to keep up with the run rate he had to be innovative. But he just kept his cool, made sure the guys around him do a bit of work as well, so when you look at the bigger concept, he's the guy that England would want to do that kind of role for them in this tournament."
Jayawardene added: "[He is a] good all-round cricketer, there are about four-five young good players in this tournament that everyone is going to look out for and he is one of them."