'Never easy as a young player to make an immediate impact' — Sangakkara

By Desmond Samith | August 15, 2013

Photo
Kumar Sangakkara believes the rotation policy is a must if we are to groom youngsters for the future. © AFP

Desmond Samith speaks to Kumar Sangakkara to get his views on the new selection policy of rotating players, his silken touch in the recently-concluded series against South Africa and planning for two World Cups just around the corner.

PhotoOver 10,000 runs in Test and ODI cricket, with averages touching 57 and 40 — the highest by a Sri Lankan batsman. Kumar, what keeps you going? What motivates you?

I think the main motivation is playing for Sri Lanka. I'm privileged to be doing it for over 13 years now, and that never goes away when you walk into the field. When you walk in, you know you're representing your country, your team-mates and the public. You've got a responsibility to try and be as good as you can be. That's the main motivation. Now, in the modern game, if you play for your country there's a lot of advantage that comes with it, both in terms of financial advantage, popularity ... but the main thing is, if you don't perform on the field with that pride, the response won't come. There's huge motivation in putting on your shirt.

The 169 you scored in the first ODI against South Africa must be very special. There, you clearly dominated the South African attack, and your last 103 runs came off just 46 balls. The shots you played — scoops, hitting across the line, moving around the crease and making room to hit over cover — all had some element of risk. It was not the Kumar Sangakkara we have known over the years.

There are certain times you need to play these strokes and certain times you don't have to. That was a game where I had to try everything to try and maximise our score, and once it starts working it is very easy for me to keep going in other matches as well, so it's something I've worked on over the years. I know there are certain shots that I can't play; I'm not a great player of the reverse sweep, but there are times you have to try these shots. When you are faced with an attack that finds it difficult to understand what you are doing, there is a great advantage. Against certain attacks you try and do different things. It's a case of understanding when to do it and how to do it. Yes, it's a part of my game that I have improved.

The senior pros in the side, Mahela Jayawardene, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Rangana Herath and yourself, are having the best periods of your careers. You seem to be at your peak, but suddenly you find yourselves rested for certain games, is that the right way to go?

I think so. There are certain times you have to try youngsters. When you try those players, it's not about winning every game. You want to win every game, but you have to take the chance that you might not win, but it will give you a good opportunity to see how another player is going to perform in that pressure-cooker atmosphere. We are not the only country doing this. It is sometimes a very tough decision to make. If you are a selector, you think if you do this it might work or it might not, but to have courage to take that decision is very important. And, you know, there are lots of people around the world who have argued for rotation and argued against rotation, but I think, for us, we have a lot of younger players who probably need to be exposed to international cricket. We can do that at certain times through rotation. Every player wants to play every game possible, but if it is not in the best interest of our national plan, then we have to look at rotation. It could be senior players or it could be younger players; it all depends on what our plan going forward is. I think it's an essential part of developing the game.

The youngsters have failed to come up with good consistent performances. What's their problem?

I think it's unfair to say that these guys aren't good or these guys can't score. I've played with Angelo [Mathews] for a long time now, played with Dinesh [Chandimal] for a few years, I watch Thiri (Lahiru Thirimanne) coming in Kusal Janith [Perera] and Dimuth Karunaratne coming in [and] there's Thisara Perera — all these guys are good cricketers [and] I have a lot of respect for them. I know these guys have the ability to take Lanka cricket not just beyond the senior players, but to a better standard than when we played — I watch these guys. But, it's never easy as a young player to make an immediate impact into the game. They are still 24, 25, and 26. They need to be given freedom to express themselves. Unfortunately, they sometimes find a lot of pressure, a lot of scrutiny. I think sometimes it affects them, but the reality is that these guys are without doubt the best that we have. They need to keep playing, they need to be exposed. Our job as seniors is to keep performing in the middle and not put pressure on the youngsters. You have seen Angi winning matches for us from impossible situations, Dinesh playing a great innings in South Africa and in England in really tough conditions, Thirimanne coming in an opening in England and showing what ability he has. They will keep improving. They will fail at certain times, of course everyone fails. They might not be consistent for a long period of time, but trust me, these guys will come good.

Young Chandimal is huge talent, but he's clearly struggling. What advice would you give him?

I think it's just [to] relax and keep enjoying. I think Dinesh has been through a bad patch. He said it publicly and that's great strength for him to admit that. That doesn't make him a bad cricketer because definitely he's a great batsman, so we need to keep giving him the freedom to go out there with a free mind and enjoy his game. [There's] no use in adding extra pressure. It's a case of understanding that he'll score. Of course, along the way, he might have to do some technical adjustments and some mental adjustments at times.

Sri Lanka's present approach in ODI cricket is to play safe upfront without losing wickets in the first 10 overs. Isn't this approach discouraging young, hard-hitting batsmen like Kusal Perera and Dilshan Munawaeera who love to go after the bowling?

The rules have changed in ODIs — two new balls, there's an extra fielder in the circle now. In the first 10 overs it's not like the olden days, two new balls have a lot more movement and lot more hardness in them. A team with a good pace bowling attack is a lot more effective. I doesn't matter whether you are a batsman who loves to go after the bowling or a batsman who takes time, you need to adjust to the conditions, and adjust quickly, or you won't be successful. Now, ODI cricket is like a Test match in a day where you have good fast bowlers trying to get you out with those two new balls, and the spinners coming in later. With the extra fielder in, the advantage is after you finish the first 10 overs, especially with the wickets in hand. You really score at a fast rate with that extra fielder in, and the bowlers have a few options, especially the fast bowlers at the end of an innings. I think the approach in many countries has changed. To play really good, solid cricket, — not negative cricket at the front where you are leaving good balls — [it's important to take] advantage of the bad balls, try to run a lot more singles, [while] at the same time ensuring that you don't lose too many wickets. It's right [that] players like Munaweera, Kusal or even Dilshan — you know Dilshan likes to go after the bowling without a doubt — but he's adjusted his game really quickly, knowing that there are two new balls. So, you have to make that mental change.

In ODI cricket, Sri Lanka expects one of the first three batsmen to remain until the end and finish the job. Isn't this a negative tactic, where you undermine the ability of your middle order batsmen and you just don't give them enough responsibility? Countries like India and Australia never travel down that path. Middle order batting has been Sri Lanka's weak point for some time now.

I think our middle order is different to other middle orders. In Australia, you have a middle order who are big and powerful. India have a middle order who are very powerful in their hitting. Ours is slightly different. We score runs in a different way. Even those countries love if one of their top-order tries and bats throughout the innings. It gives the other players the ability to play round that player knowing that they can be attacking and free when one side is taken care of. I don't think it's a negative attitude. Everyone who goes out there knows they have to take responsibility for their performances. You have to score runs, but at the same time, you also know there are six other batsmen who are equally good to do the same job, so you have that cushion also, but you don't want to have that safety net. You go out there and do it yourself and come back having made an impact on the game, so I don't think it's a negative attitude. It's a necessity with these new rules coming in.

Sri Lanka were among the first three in Test and ODI tables just three years back, but today the country is placed seventh in Tests and fourth in ODIs. Is something wrong with the system, selections or coaching?

I think we can't look at excuses. As a team and players, there have been times we didn't perform well enough to go up the rankings. To go up the rankings we have to keep winning. In Test cricket, I think we need to play more matches ... we are playing Pakistan at the end of the year. We also have to understand that no matter how much coaching and support we have, we need to go out there and win. And if we don't win, our chances of going up the rankings are slim. As players, we also have to take a lot of responsibility and not just look around and say there is something else. No, we need to look at ourselves as a team and try and improve and win more consistently.

Sri Lanka have reached four World Cup finals in the recent past. Two more World Cups are coming up — the T20 in Bangladesh in less than six months time and the ODI World Cup in Australia-New Zealand in 2015. What should Sri Lanka do to win these tournaments?

The conditions will be different from the other World Cups. The wickets will be different. Without going into past performances we need to start afresh, have new strategy and develop in a different way as a team. Other sides are changing, we too need to change and keep pace with them and go beyond them, so I think our preparations should be solid. We've got to start from now. How we think, how we train and how we play our practice games; all that should be geared with that final goal in mind.

Spin bowling all-rounders will surely play a key role on slow-turning tracks in Bangladesh; have you come across such players in the ongoing inter-provincial T20 tournament?

I think there are talented spinning all-rounders who probably can be made use of, or see whether they are in the standard to go out and play in a T20 World Cup very soon. Guys like Shehan Jayasuriya did score some runs as an opening batsman and bowled beautiful off spin. We have Chaturanga de Silva, [who] I think was in the A-tour to the West Indies and scored a hundred. He bowls left arm spin. We have Jeevan Mendis still in the side and Dilruwan Perera who is an off spinner and an opening batsman. You have so many more: Janaka Gunaratne who performed well with the bat and can bowl off spin and guys like Sachithra Serasinghe. We just need to ensure that they are fit and in a standard that the national selectors can use them to make an impact in international cricket. We have the talent, but we need to see if in six month's time these guys will be ready.

Desmond Samith is a sports journalist for the Ceylon Today newspaper.

© Desmond Samith/Ceylon Today

Comments

Stormy's picture
Member since:
15 January 2011
Last activity:
1 day 20 hours

Its not fair to judge players but Sanga as a 23 year old was already showing signs of being something great as did Mahela. The 23 year old's today don't look a patch on Sanga and Mahela The main issue I reckon is technical incompetence and I am afraid that is serious issue. Doesn't mean these guys will not grow up to be great players but at this stage there are alarm bells.

Anonymous's picture

@island Cricket Please we need an interview from Akila Dananjaya. i allways think he is the best Spinner we have after Murali and herath. sanath an co allways neglect him. please i want to know what happen to him these days & why he fail to select at least for SL A team. media also forget this boy.

Anonymous's picture

http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/638539.html

im sure next ipl auction he will be sold for any team,and they will get best out of him. our selectors don't know value of players. if akila played for Australia he will be the first choice spinner for them.

COLLIN's picture
Member since:
17 September 2011
Last activity:
8 weeks 1 day

I am also concern what happened to Akila Dananjaya and this type of conditions is very suitable for him. But yet again Sri Lankan selectors think very mysteries way when it comes to uncommon young talent.

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