From the publishers of THE HINDU
Vol. 24 :: No. 38 :: Sep. 22 - 28, 2001
'Sri Lankan cricket is in safe hands'S. DINAKAR
TAKING OVER the reins from a giant like Arjuna Ranatunga can be a daunting task, but Sanath Jayasuriya, who is very different in his methods, has stepped into the shoes of the 'Grandmaster' quite effortlessly.
Jayasuriya's ways on the cricket field are uncomplicated. He leads by example, whether he is driving the opposition bowlers to despair with strokes of savage power and brilliance, sending down his left-arm spin during crunch situations or throwing himself around on the field, often in close catching positions.
And as the man from Matara says proudly, he has the support of his team-mates. It is not uncommon to find him locked in discussion with his men during moments of crisis. In other words, he is open to suggestions which is always a good sign in a captain.
The Sportstar spoke to this all-action star, one of the most explosive openers in the business, and a smiling, simple man with a burning desire to elevate Lankan cricket.
Question: You must be relieved to win a home Test series after the setback against England.
Answer: That is true. We lost a close battle to England, and that was a series when quite a few things went against us. Coming after that, it is nice to win against India. We did our homework, formed our strategy. We watched videos of the Indian players and also trained hard.
Sri Lanka won the last Test convincingly. Still there must have been pressure on your team going into the SSC game. India had come back strongly in Kandy, just like England did after losing the first match in Galle.
It was a big match but we decided to play our natural game. That was the best way out for us. We did not want to play under any sort of pressure.
You had also stressed on batsmen getting a start going on to big scores. You must have been a very pleased man with four of your batsmen getting centuries in the third Test.
Yes, the batsmen had a little meeting before the final Test where we decided to consolidate after getting a start. Getting dismissed for 30s and 40s in Test cricket will not serve any purpose. This includes me too. That discussion certainly helped.
It was wonderful that four Lankan batsmen reached centuries. I thought Marvan and Mahela batted particularly well. It was good to see Hashan Tillekeratne getting a hundred. There was a lot of pressure on him to perform since this was a comeback series for him. He coped with it well.
Thilan Samaraweera showed a lot of character in his first Test.
Thilan is a talented player. This was his first Test and he batted superbly, was very cool. He can bowl his off-spin well too. He is a 50-50 allrounder.
Off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan emerged a huge factor, as expected. You found it difficult to take the ball away from him at the SSC!
He is a match-winner and he proved it again in the series. He just loves to bowl. There was a little bounce on the first day and he exploited it superbly. He has so much variety. The off-break, the delivery that spins away, the top-spinner, the arm ball, he can even send down the leg-break. I wanted to give him a short period of rest during his marathon spell in the first innings. He wanted to carry on.
I will be honest with you. If I had won the toss, I would have elected to field, because the SSC pitch has something in it for the bowlers on the first day. It was a good toss to lose!
Sri Lanka won the first and the third Tests by huge margins. What went wrong in Kandy?
We lost too many wickets in the first session on the third day. You cannot afford that in a Test match. Too many batsmen got out after getting set that allowed India to come back. The bowling too lacked discipline. The bowlers bowled on both sides of the wicket, gave the Indian batsmen width. We worked on this and made the improvement at SSC.
In the victory at Galle, your knock was a big factor.
I batted well. Kumara Sangakkara also played superbly. He is a crucial player for us. Then Dilhara Fernando and Muralitharan bowled well.
With his genuine pace Fernando adds quite a lot to the attack.
He is a very promising prospect and he bowled to a good rhythm in the first Test. His speed and bounce make him a threat, and with experience he could become more dangerous.
How does it feel to be the captain of Sri Lanka. Are you enjoying the responsibility?
I am enjoying the job because I have the support of my team-mates. That is very important.
During the series, we witnessed stiff competition for batting slots in the side with youngsters like the promising Michael van Dort not finding a place.
I think this is extremely good for the side. Nobody can take his place for granted. It is always nice to have a good back-up.
Sri Lanka is going through a period of transition with several new faces making an appearance. How do you look at this phase?
I think the side has come through the situation very well. The youngsters have potential and Sri Lankan cricket is in safe hands.
There is a lot of emphasis on pace too in Lanka these days. There is also more grass on the surfaces.
We have to build an effective pace attack for the 2003 World Cup. And we have young talented pacemen in Lanka. We are also looking for pacemen who could also bat usefully. This is vital in modern day cricket where everyone has to contribute. It is true that we have left more grass on the pitch during the home Tests this year. In fact, I have never seen so much grass on the Galle pitch. Apart from the young pacemen we also have the experienced Chaminda Vaas who is bowling well. And Murali can turn on any wicket.
It was a happy series for Lanka, but Suresh Perera's action being reported must have struck a jarring note.
He's a fine cricketer and should come out of it. Even Steve Bucknor had mentioned only about a particular delivery. I am sure he will come out clean.
Your left-arm spin has come in handy for Lanka in both forms of the game. There is a feeling that you should bowl more.
I consider myself as a batsman who can bowl. I enjoy bowling and whenever the occasion demands, I am there for Lanka.
The victory in the triangular one-day competition must have been satisfying too.
We have been playing our best cricket in the final. The team is being able to lift its performance. This is a good sign.
Your knock in the final against India was again vital.
Yes, that was satisfying. But more importantly the team won. That's what matters.
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