Mahela on Lanka’s plans for the T20 Championship — in Q and A with Rex Clementine

from the Island, 11 September 2012

With the World T-20 just a week away, Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene gives insight to the national cricket team’s campaign in the 12-nation tournament. A major cricket trophy has eluded the 35-year-old and at the twilight of his career, Jayawardene may not want to leave too many things for the future. During the last five years Sri Lanka has reached finals of three ICC events, but has faulted in the last hurdle and here Jayawardene discusses, although it’s a long shot, how Sri Lanka can avoid a repetition. The Sri Lankan captain also speaks on the possibility of promoting Thisara Perera early in the batting order, what inspired the selection of Akila Dananjaya, his take on West Indies and lots more.

Here are the excerpts.

Question: How has been your preparation ahead of the World T-20?

Mahela: We probably lost about two sessions due to weather. But you can’t control weather. Other than that we have had some indoor sessions. Some of the boys who needed extra bit of sessions had that. Most of the guys were part of the SLPL and as far as match practice is concerned, it’s been very good. Everyone is in good nick and we need to just top up a few things like game plans and stuff like that. We want guys to focus on the game plan.

Question: You are pooled alongside South Africa and Zimbabwe in Group ‘C’. Some call it a tricky group. Your thoughts?

Mahela: In T-20 cricket, you can’t make too many mistakes simply because it’s very difficult to get back into the game. Obviously we have that in mind. We have to trust our game, our capabilities and we need to focus and start off by playing two good games. As you said, any group would be tough in this competition and it’s very important that we make a good start.

Question: Obviously you have home advantage and a team like Pakistan is capable of anything, but many believe that West Indies are the favourites in the competition.

Mahela: They have got a solid team. It’s about performing on that particular day. Other teams pose different threats. We need to assess how to take them on. We play West Indies in a warm-up match as well on Thursday which is good. Everyone will keep an eye on everyone else, but as far as I am concerned, the main thing is those two first games at Hambantota.

Question: How does it feel when a team like Australia are ranked number ten ahead of the competition?

Mahela: I just saw that in the papers today. In T-20 cricket if you have Australia ranked at number ten, mind you they still can win this tournament. That’s how competitive T-20 cricket is at the moment. You just need to ensure that there’s no complacency and trust the ability and enjoy.

Question: You have enjoyed a lot of success opening the batting in T-20 cricket. Will that be happening this time around in the World T-20 as well or you will opt for a different combination?

Mahela: It all depends on how we want to go with our combination. We have got two Dilshans (Tillekeratne and Munaweera) who are batting well. But let’s see. We have to assess the top six or seven and we have to choose from that. Then we have to decide what my role is going to be.

Question: Ajantha Mendis returns to the side after a lay-off of nine months due to an injury? How big a factor is he going to be in this campaign?

Mahela: He is a key weapon for us. The thing about Ajantha is that you may be able to pick him, but you still have to hit him. If you take his record, he has been phenomenal. It was important for us to get him fit again 100 percent. Last six months before he got injured, he wasn’t 100 percent fit and he wasn’t bowling well. So he has come after a long lay-off and in the nets he has looked good and his back looks stronger. He is eager to get back and he is going to play a big role for us. He is an experienced bowler having played in three big tournaments for us earlier.

Question: What inspired the selection of Akila Dananjaya?

Mahela: I just wanted him to play the Provincial Tournament because I felt that he had the potential. Obviously I had to play someone who was below 21 and I thought I will play someone who is an impact player. We were all surprised by the way he handled situations and he was confident going against some quality opposition and batsmen. Everyone felt that he can give us that ‘X’ factor. Obviously we have two other senior bowlers in the squad, but if we can use him in certain situations, we feel he can be a factor and it’s a good option for us to have. It doesn’t mean that he is going to be our first choice and it all will depend on how the other guys are performing.

Question: When did you first notice Dananjaya?

Mahela: Before we went to play Pakistan in UAE last year, he was in the nets bowling. I found it tough to pick him, but at the same time he wasn’t being consistent. He was bowling short and didn’t have control. I spoke to Piyal Wijetunga, who was his coach and I asked him where he is from. I was told that he has been coming through the ranks. Piyal told him that rather than trying all the variations, he needed to first get his line and length right. So six months later I faced him again before we went to South Africa and there was a huge improvement. He had more control and everything was good. Piyal said that he worked very hard. Even the other Under-19 guy who went on to play in the Youth World Cup, P. H. D. Kaushal, is good. Both of them have impressed us. When the opportunity came and we had to pick up an Under-21 player, I told my franchise that we will pick this guy out because he is quality. It’s been a gradual process for him. Hopefully we can guide him in the right direction.


Question: Is the ‘X’ factor something that you look for in new bowlers?

Mahela: In international cricket if you have that ‘X’ factor. It will always help. Batsmen are getting better and better and they are analysing bowlers. Their skill levels are improving daily. When you have a couple of guys who can create opportunities for you to build pressure or pick up wickets, that gives you an extra advantage and you have to look for that.

Question: In the last five years, Sri Lanka has reached three finals in ICC events, but failed to win any? Is it time to find out why that’s happening?

Mahela: We would have obviously loved to win those games. Like I said before, we are getting into those situations, which is good. We are playing good cricket and we are not overwhelmed by the situation. We just need to keep doing the same processes and handle the tough situations so that we can win a World Cup. Once we get there we need to focus and finish off that one final game. Those are things we need to do when we get there, but right now we need to win those first two games.

Question: Many believe that Thisara Perera’s skills as a batsman are wasted as he is batting for you at number seven or eight. Should you try him higher in the order?

Mahela: We have given thought to it. But we don’t have that many big hitters in the lower middle-order to handle the last five overs. Thisara is a guy who can clear any bowler in the last five overs. How we are going to balance the side is what we have to figure out. If we haven’t lost too many wickets in a particular game, yes we can do that. In certain situations we feel that Thisara can change the game for us especially if we are chasing something. We love to use him in the top of the order and he has the ability to bat anywhere.

Question: How’s the fitness of Kumar Sangakkara and Nuwan Kulasekara?

Mahela: Kumar is fine. He has been buzzing our coaches to get extra net sessions. He is coming along very nicely. Nuwan has been bowling 80 to 90 percent during the last couple of weeks and next week we will let him push even further in fielding and stuff like that. Everyone else is well.

Question: You are playing in all three venues, but a team like India is only playing in Colombo. Would you have been happier to remain at one particular ground throughout the campaign?

Mahela: It would have been easier on the body definitely. But as the home team going into those places gives a better option for our fans as well. We tend to gather a lot more momentum. No complaints. Our minds are set to win those two games at Hambantota first and then we have to focus on the next games.


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