ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday December 2, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 27

I feel proud to join the select few

The dream of any cricketer is to play for his country. I did so first fourteen years ago, against Pakistan in 1993 at Kandy. If my memory serves me right, we lost that match by an innings and therefore, I bowled only once and went wicketless. In Sri Lanka’s first innings, I also scored a duck.

After such a start, to have survived as a pace bowler in the subcontinent for so long and for me to now play my hundredth test match is a special moment. I am told I am only the third Sri Lankan to do so, after two legends in the game, Sanath and Murali. I feel honoured and to be honest, when I played that first test, I never thought I would play ninety nine more.

This opportunity comes after I sat out the last test against Australia. I was disappointed about not playing in Hobart but I always thought I could return to the side. I believe I have one year more of test cricket in me-and probably two more years of one day internationals.

We arrived in Kandy on Thursday and have been at the Mahaveli Reach Hotel, where the English team is also staying. We all heard of Wednesday’s bomb explosions in Colombo and hopefully the incidents wouldn’t distract us too much from the cricket. Security around us is high and thankfully, the Englishmen are not packing their bags and returning home.

The mood in our dressing room is upbeat. We are regrouping after two losses on the trot to Australia a few weeks ago. Despite that, the boys have been a happy bunch and are trying hard to lift their game and put in a special performance. Even in the defeats in Australia, we learnt a lot. The Aussies demonstrated that when conditions are tricky, cricket becomes a game of patience. We have discussed this aspect of our game. Now, we have to apply what we learnt against the Englishmen.

I too am still learning. Many have commented about my lack of pace in recent times. That is likely to happen with increasing age and after playing for a hundred tests and over 300 one day internationals. But what I lack in pace, I could always make up with swing.

I discussed this aspect of my game with our bowling coach Champaka Ramanayake. He advised me not to worry too much about pace but to concentrate on swing and bowling in the right areas. I know from experience that even a delivery at a speed of 125 km an hour can bring you a wicket if it is well thought out and accurately directed.

I am also aware that I need to perform exceptionally well not because this is my hundredth game but because I have to retain my place in the playing XI. As we get older, if we fail in a couple of matches, there is always speculation that our playing days are over.

If a younger player does not perform well in a few games, it is attributed to inexperience and is given another chance. We too have passed that phase. As veterans though, we have set standards and now at the latter stage of our careers we have to constantly match up to those standards. When you are over 30 years, you have to perform well at every game. But that is the life of professional sportsmen!

As older cricketers, it is my belief that after serving the country for so long we should know when to go. As a cricketer with a good track record in the past, I wouldn’t want to be the laughing stock-I don’t think anyone does. So, when to retire is a tough call but we should be able to, and allowed to, take that decision.

Personally, I believe I am ready for one more year at test cricket level where my target will be 350 wickets. Thereafter, I will retire. And I also believe that this is a good time as any to groom youngsters because we now have a very good crop of fast bowlers. Dilhara Fernando, Lasith Malinga and Farveez Maharoof have made their mark already. Chanaka Welagedera and Sujeewa de Silva are also waiting in the wings. But all of them will have to learn on the job and learn quickly too-but I am sure they will deliver the goods and they have the chance to do so beginning with the Englishmen.

Obviously, the Englishmen are a different opposition, in comparison to Australia. We also have the added advantage of playing at home. But that is not to say that we can take them lightly. They beat us in the recent one day international series and they have many class players in their ranks. Besides, to beat them we have to take all twenty wickets and that wouldn’t be easy.

When the Englishmen were last here four years ago, there was some friction between the teams and the rapport between the players was not excellent. This time though relations have been friendlier although we do expect a hard fought series in the next fewweeks. I myself have had a chat with Owais Shah, my team mate at Middlesex where I had a stint of county cricket.

We had a look at the conditions at Asgiriya. It seems to be a flat wicket and a batsmen’s paradise. However, the ball may seam in the first few hours of play when it will be favourable for bowlers. But, it looks like a wicket which would require an accurate and extremely disciplined performance from the bowlers. And we all know there is one bowler waiting to contribute just that-Murali. He has always been a unique bowler but he is also a livewire in the dressing room and such a likeable character. We are all very happy for him and we hope he achieves his milestone of breaking the world record for test wickets in his hometown.

As for me, as always, I would do my best. It is a special occasion not only for me but for my family as well. And it is correct to say that I wouldn’t be where I am if not for my parents and the support from my wife Vasana-and the strength I derive from God. I do believe that my faith in God has enabled me to go this far.

Vasana as well as my son and daughter, Nethara and Ashwin who are six and three respectively along with my brother Niranjan will be there at Kandy to watch me play and cheer me on. My parents are also planning to come down to Kandy, if circumstances permit. It is a memorable moment for me but I hope we can all mark it by recording a comprehensive win over England.

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