We will be disappointing 20m people says Mahela
By Saíadi Thawfeeq
The 2011 World Cup is something that former Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene desperately wants to win. Having seen Sri Lanka qualify for the semi-finals of the 2003 edition in South Africa and make the final of the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean, Jayawardene feels the 2011 edition should be the crowning glory not only because it is held in the subcontinent but for the fact that Sri Lanka have one of the best bowling line-ups in the competition today. According to Jayawardene it is not just sheer hard work and planning that can win you a World Cup but a team also needs that little element of luck to see it through.
In a forthright interview with The Nation, Jayawardene who will be playing in his fourth and probably his last World Cup says it would be a big disappointment to the 20 million people living in the country if Sri Lanka fails to win the World Cup.
Q: Ask any cricketer and he would say that Test cricket is the ultimate test, so what is so important in winning a World Cup which features only one-day fifty-over games?
MJ: Itís a unique scene, in Test cricket there is no championship as such you get challenged quite a bit. But as a trophy and something significant for you to cherish once you finish your career the World Cup medal or souvenir becomes the most important thing. Everything else like the Champions trophy, the World T20 has come up later on; the oldest form of championship has been the World Cup since 1975. It is something unique and every past cricketer who has won that cherishes it deeply. The current crop and the future players as well would love to grab onto that opportunity.
Q: What does winning the World Cup mean for you?
MJ: I desperately want to win a World Cup. That is the only thing that is not in my cabinet or tray or whatever. We got into the final once and it was a great feeling but I truly want to go that extra step and win it.
Q: Reaching the final of the 2007 World Cup and losing it would have been hard to take especially when you are the captain, what went wrong?
MJ: We didnít play our game up to that point in that World Cup we did pretty well. We controlled things really well and our bowling was the strong point with Lasith (Malinga), Chaminda (Vaas) and Murali (Muralitharan) leading from the front and the other guys chipped in really well. That World Cup final Australia took control of things from the outset. They were attacking and they took chances and it paid off. Itís just what happens in a World Cup when it is just a one-off game you go hard and take control of things. They did that. At the end of the day what happened is they played better cricket than us on that given day.
Q: Which of the three World Cups you have featured would you rate as your best?
MJ: The first World Cup was always going to be a learning curve for me in England, the second one I put a lot of pressure on myself and I did not perform. I did not handle the situation very well. The third one was interesting I was taken by surprise by being the captain of the World Cup as well. It probably took the batting and the captainís responsibility away from that but it came out very good. I just concentrated on little, little things and it helped me to have a good World Cup. Now this being the fourth one, I donít know whether I would get another opportunity to play another World Cup. I donít think that far ahead. Going into this it is a very important one for me especially being at home. I am part of it and I really look forward to it.
Q: This is your fourth World Cup and in two of them Sri Lanka reached the semi-finals in 2003) and the final (in 2007) what will it be this time?
MJ: It will be nice if we can do that; a semi-final (2003), a final (2007) and then ultimately to win it. But as everyone knows clearly itís going to be a lot of hard work. We just have to take one game at a time and focus on the job in hand.
Q: Any team can make the best of preparations for a major tournament like the World Cup, but what guarantee is there that all that hard work will win a World Cup?
MJ: I totally agree the preparation and all that is the part we can control but you need a little bit of luck, things going your way at the right time and the most important thing is to focus on little things. The pressure can get to you if you think too much or too far ahead and not just concentrate on the thing at that moment. Thatís the most important thing the entire game has to be very relaxed very calm about the situation and just go out there and enjoy ourselves. Thatís the only way we will play to our potential, play and express ourselves much better out there and play with the freedom, thatís important.
Q: Are the preparations for 2011 World Cup any different to the past ones? If so what are the changes?
MJ: In 1999 we were not prepared. If you ask most of the guys who represented us in that World Cup I donít think we planned for those conditions and we didnít have a good World Cup. In 2003 we had a similar situation but we played as a unit and everyone contributed but we couldnít get through that semi-final which was in our control. We got Australia out for 213 but we didnít bat well which is one of those situations where we had everything going our way and we played some really good cricket. In 2007 the planning, the preparation was great and we just went out and enjoyed ourselves and surprised other teams and other people as well doing that. Those are the important things. Apart from the 1999 World Cup the other two World Cups we had a game plan and we went ahead and enjoyed and played some good cricket. This time as well our preparation has been great we are playing really good cricket, we just need to relax and enjoy ourselves.
Q: Winning the World Cup is every teamís dream but only one team can win it how would you rate Sri Lankaís chances?
MJ: Our chances are as good as any other team. There are about six good strong teams who have equal opportunities. The way the format is, it is going to be a very open World Cup there are no clear favourites. The subcontinent teams have an advantage because of the conditions but everyone knows that is not going to be a huge advantage just a slight advantage but still you have to play good cricket to win. All the other teams will come focused theyíll make sure they come prepared. Itís going to be a very exciting World Cup. We have a very good opportunity, we have a very good side, the guys are playing really good cricket, we just need to concentrate and keep doing that.
Q: In what areas do you think Sri Lanka can outscore their rivals?
MJ: Our bowling would be the key factor. There are a lot of variations in the armoury and if we could just keep things simple, be very attacking and grab all the opportunities, our bowling would be the key difference in this World Cup. Things look okay but you need to go out and perform every day. We just need to consistently keep working at in all three departments, every little bit where we could improve against different teams. We have to use different tactics like that. Fielding will be something that we will be focused on even in the run-up games. In the practice games I donít think we were 100 percent on the field, but the two matches we played against West Indies were competitive games and I thought our fielding was fantastic. We just canít be inconsistent and we canít drop our guard. Fielding plays a huge part a couple of half chances a run-out here and there makes a huge difference. We have to really focus on that and keep working hard at it. Our batting a lot of people questioned but we believed in the players we had. That they were capable of handling and they were the best we could use in those roles and situations. We clearly told the guys Ďyouíve got a role in the team just concentrate on that, donít think too far ahead of yourself just choose little, little thingsí. These guys are so talented that is why weíve kept faith in them and they are coming good for us. In the 7-8 matches for us we have to go all the way to try and be consistent as possible.
Q: Does playing at home bring added pressure on the team to perform?
MJ: Before the 1996 World Cup Sri Lanka was like Bangladesh just turning up to win a few games, thatís it. The 1996 World Cup created a whole different era in Sri Lanka cricket. It put Sri Lanka on top of the table and players could say, Ďyou know we can do thisí. Ever since then every time we go to a World Cup the pressure has been there. To be fair, apart from the 1999 World Cup, weíve lived up to it. Weíve handled pressure situations very well. Hopefully we can do the same. However much you say the expectations are not going to go down, they want us to do well and they know that weíve got a good side. Weíve just got to live with that we canít deny that and say that there is no pressure. We just go out there and enjoy it. There is always going to be pressure, every team and every player will have pressure. It is how well we handle that pressure, we just need to be smart how we are to go about it and make sure the entire team is relaxed and enjoy their cricket.
Q: If by some chance Sri Lanka fails to win the World Cup would it be one of the greatest disappointments in your career?
MJ: I had good times and bad times. I have found a way of hiding my disappointments. It could be a great disappointment if we fail to win the world Cup. But you canít think like that, you have to be very positive about the tournament and try and give your best shot and see what happens. If we donít do that 20 million people will be very sad as well. That is really motivation for us to try and go and do our best.