Mahela Jayawardene: 'Two overs in a row for a bowler makes the Hundred tactically quite fascinating'

The Southern Brave coach talks about working out the new format, dealing with injuries, and taking a punt on Jake Lintott

Mahela Jayawardene: "It's one thing to be strong on paper, but going out to execute is another"  •  Alex Davidson/Getty Images

Mahela Jayawardene: "It's one thing to be strong on paper, but going out to execute is another"  •  Alex Davidson/Getty Images

Your side lost their first two games in the Hundred, but have won three and had a no-result since and are well-placed to qualify for the knockout stages. How do you assess your season to date?
I think in the first few games we weren't good enough. We were behind the pace of the game and made quite a few mistakes. In terms of getting the group together and trying to get role clarity and execution, I think we were slightly behind everyone else, but we managed to get into a good groove after a slow start. The rained-off game [against Manchester Originals] was frustrating. We had good momentum in that game, but most teams have been affected by rain. Overall, I can't complain. The guys have been working really hard and it's been good fun so far.
This sort of season has become your trademark. Mumbai Indians' first-game curse is well documented and you seem to have a habit of starting slowly and then clicking a few games into a tournament. Why is that?
I actually told the guys that they've kept my thing going about not winning the first game of a tournament - I don't think I've done that ever. I congratulated this group on it (laughs).
No, it's not ideal. You don't want to start the tournament by losing matches, but if it does happen, you need to find out why. Especially in a new tournament like this, everyone took time to get used to the pace of the game and how to do things tactically.
In the first game we didn't bat well, so we were always behind, but in the Welsh Fire game, we were in it until we made a few mistakes and they got away from us. We realised that the margin for error is minimal and that we needed to tighten things up.
We've had a few injuries and needed to cover for that, and the guys have responded well. The important thing is that you play your best cricket at the back end, getting into the playoffs and finishing off properly.
You were the bookies' favourites. You're used to scrutiny at the IPL, but did you feel some pressure after losing the first two games?
It's easy to put teams down as favourites, but if you look at all of them on paper, they have certain strengths and weaknesses. I think with injuries and replacements, every team has had to change tactically. From the time we did the draft up until now, we've probably had eight or nine changes. That's something we all had to get used to. It's one thing to be strong on paper, but going out to execute is another and I've explained that to the boys as well. I don't think we felt much pressure. We just wanted to go out and play some good cricket.
You've been successful with Mumbai thanks to a core of strong Indian players, supplemented by overseas players filling certain specific roles. Are you looking to do the same with Brave, having signed a strong group of English players here - James Vince, Chris Jordan, Liam Dawson and Tymal Mills - in the initial draft?
That's absolutely right. That is our main group which we will evolve around. That group has been structured in two different ways. Firstly, they are quality players who have either represented England or are on the doorstep of getting a call. Once we'd recruited that group, we could build around that. It's not just a one-year tournament, so building that core unit is important for us and those local players are the most valuable. Then our overseas players have to add value to that. The second thing is that we've recruited quite a bit from our two main counties, Hampshire and Sussex, to give that element of a local feel and to build that connection with our fan base and create an identity.
You've lost a number of overseas players at various stages - David Warner, Marcus Stoinis, Andre Russell, Devon Conway and Shadab Khan - but still have one of the best in the competition in Quinton de Kock. Did your relationship with him through Mumbai help get that deal over the line?
Definitely. Initially Quinny wasn't available due to international commitments, but when he got freed up and Warner was withdrawing, I had a chat with him and said if he was available, he should join us. Everything fell into place. He's a through-and-through allrounder at the moment because it's difficult to find a keeper-batsman who bats in the top three. That gives teams much more flexibility with their combinations. He's been a great asset and has been great around the group.
Tymal Mills has been a key performer in your recent wins. What are his strengths?
I think Millsy has been brilliant. I've known him since I was playing for Sussex and he had a stint in the IPL. He's had a few setbacks with injuries but he looks healthy and has been bowling really well. He's got a lot of experience now, playing the shorter formats. He's got good focus, good clarity in execution, and he's one of the leaders in our set-up, giving that experience to the rest of the group. He's not one-dimensional. He brings that element of being an attacking bowler in the powerplay. He can come back in the middle and pick up wickets, and obviously the back-end execution - so that gives a lot of options with his pace and his variations.
With Jofra Archer injured, Mills looks like he's in contention for England's T20 World Cup squad. Do you think the pitches in the UAE will suit him?
I think on any surface, Millsy will give you that variation, whether it's a slow wicket or a good, hard surface. In Dubai, the surfaces are usually quite true, and in Abu Dhabi as well. I think you will get good surfaces there, maybe slightly on the slower side with the weather conditions, but he is able to adapt.
You signed 28-year-old Jake Lintott, the left-arm wristspinner who only became a professional player this year, as your wild-card pick after this year's re-draft. Did you know much about him?
When we lost our overseas wristspinner in Shadab, who was unavailable this year, we were looking around to replace him, but most of the international players were not around. We then looked at local wristspinners and went through the domestic season to look at guys who had come through in the last couple of years. Most of the options had been picked already. Jake's name came up and we had footage of him. Graeme [Welch, one of Brave's assistant coaches], who works with him at Edgbaston, knew him pretty well, so we had a good chat about him. We wanted to know about his character as well. Obviously it's a big stepping stone for him, handling the pressure of playing in front of big crowds. In the first few sessions he bowled really well and looked confident, so we gave him some simple plans. We didn't pick him for the first game but realised with our bowling unit that we needed the wristspin option. From the second game onwards, he's been brilliant. There's still a lot to improve but he's bowled well and he's going to get better and better in this environment.
What have you made of George Garton? He had only played 12 T20s when you took a punt on him in the initial draft in 2019.
With franchise cricket, that is the key. We did a lot of scouting before the initial draft and identified guys we wanted. We wanted to invest in young talent as well and develop them - that's part of our role, and that's the balance we tried to create. George was in the seconds coming through when I was at Sussex, so I knew the skills he had, and he's had a couple of good seasons in T10 as well. Sometimes you need to invest in talents at that time and see how they progress, and George has come a long way since we picked him in the draft. It's brilliant that we've been able to give him the new ball and make him a key part of our set-up. He's a good package: brilliant in the field, and bats in that middle lower order, with him and CJ [Jordan] giving us a bit of batting depth.
Liam Dawson broke his finger against Manchester Originals. Is he out for the rest of the season?
We're getting some experts to look at it, but most likely he won't be available. Danny [Briggs] in our squad is an ideal replacement. We've had a few injury issues. It was unfortunate that we didn't have Jof, and Craig [Overton] was picked for the Test squad. Our bowling department was really hit, but we've been managing so far. Hopefully the guys will be healthy for the rest of the competition. We haven't decided about signing a replacement, but we do have that option.
Have you used the Hundred to look at possible Mumbai Indians recruits for future seasons?
Definitely. It's good to see the talent in person and in games. And it works with getting overseas players for the Hundred, or getting English players for franchises in the IPL. When I picked Jofra in Bangladesh [for Khulna Titans in the BPL], it was purely because I'd played against him in county cricket here. It's about seeing and understanding that natural talent and giving them an opportunity. It's similar to how football works, or maybe how it worked ten to 15 years ago, with the scouting system and getting talent into your academies. I think franchise cricket is pretty much heading towards that direction.
What have you made of the Hundred's format? Do you see it as just a slightly shorter version of T20?
It is quite similar, but with the option of two overs in a row for a bowler, it's tactically quite different. It's quite interesting with the new batsman always coming in to strike, which allows you to look at things differently, especially at the back end. Bowling from certain ends has been important, because at some venues you have a smaller boundary, so you need to look at things differently as well. Otherwise, it's pretty much a T20 - but the tempo is different, and batting in different slabs of the game has been slightly different.
We've seen a few batters get stuck at the non-striker's end during a block of ten balls. Does strike rotation become more important with these rules?
Yeah, if you have a guy who is off strike for even eight to nine balls - that's something we've managed to avoid pretty well, but in certain situations, you don't have control of that. I think in the last game Quinny went without strike for seven or eight balls because we lost a couple of wickets and he was stuck at the wrong end. It's something to manage and guys have to be aware of those situations.
Are there any regulations in the Hundred that you'd like to see carried over into all T20 cricket?
I definitely like the fact that the new batter has to come in to strike at the fall of a wicket, even if it's a catch and the guys have crossed. That's a very interesting rule. In some situations in T20 cricket, in a two-over slab at the back end, it becomes almost a free hit for a tailender off the last ball of the first over. But in this scenario - and it happened in our last game - you don't have that free hit for a tailender. He still has to rotate the strike or not get out.
Even the two overs in a row for a bowler makes it tactically quite fascinating. You have to plan a lot with your strike bowlers and where you can use them.
There is a strict cut-off time in the Hundred, and fielding teams have to bring an extra man into the 30-yard circle if they miss it. Would you like to see that in the IPL, where some games now extend into the middle of the night?
The IPL is a domestic tournament too, so if they are happy to have that extra airtime, that's their decision. What might happen if you shorten it too much is that the quality of the game might reduce because the bowlers don't have time to think through certain things. It's a fine line. I like the fact we're being pushed here and that you get penalised during the game rather than a fine or a warning afterwards. It's good for this competition as a domestic tournament, but it's tough to compare it with the IPL - the viewership and the content and requirements are quite different. If a product requires that quality and needs bowlers to take their time, then tactically that might be better for the viewers rather than rushing through. I see the two quite differently.
Southern Brave are top of the table in the women's competition, and the platform the Hundred has given to the women's game has been one of its major positives. Has there been much interaction between the two squads?
Definitely. We've made sure we've spent time with the girls. We've had a couple of get-togethers and had good cricket conversations with them. We made a point of being one unit, because we play on the same days and support each other, and have conversations on tactics and various other things. We use the same facilities, the hotel is the same, so we spend a lot of time around each other. It's been brilliant to have them with us. They've been playing some brilliant cricket too. That top order is very powerful. I don't know how Lottie [Charlotte Edwards, the women's coach] managed to get that together, but tactically it looks perfect, and their bowling unit has quite a bit of young talent coming through as well.
Have you been talking tactics and swapping notes with Edwards?
Initially we had a couple of chats when we came over about how to use the new tactics. The way the two teams play is obviously a bit different, but the more games we've played, we've realised how to use certain things. When the girls are playing before us, we get a bit of an idea about how the surface plays, and some information off them, which is quite valuable. Both teams are enjoying each other's success.
You have two group games left, starting on Wednesday against Welsh Fire. What will your message to the group be before then?
We just need to concentrate on our strengths and keep doing what we're doing. We can't control what's going to happen in other matches. The message is to control what's in our hands. The message has been to treat every game like a qualifier or a playoff and go with that attitude and to enjoy that challenge. That's the most important thing.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98