Atapattu: nervous starter and proud leader
Marvan Atapattu, Sri Lanka's current one-day leader and heir to the Test throne, endured a particularly painful baptism to international cricket with five ducks in his first six innings. But a decade later he's Sri Lanka's most consistent performer in both forms of the game; a stylish technician capable of scoring heavily at home and abroad against the very best. In an in-depth interview, Atapattu reflects on his early turmoil, his reputation for being a nervous starter, his greatest innings and achievements, before looking forward to his future with the Sri Lanka team.
Q: You were drafted into the Test team at just 19, straight from your school, Ananda College, without any first-class experience. What do you remember about you first Test innings at Chandigarh in 1991 and the subsequent string of ducks?
A: I didn't know how difficult Test cricket was at the time. I just walked in as if it was a school game. I soon realised I was scoring zeroes and with each innings it became more difficult for me to get off the mark. My thinking at the time and my mental approach was different - I made it difficult for myself thinking about the first run rather than the first ball. I found that I could not handle the pressure of Test cricket straight from school cricket.
Unfortunately, there was also too much advice coming my way. I'm sure it was given with good intentions but I couldn't handle it because if I met 10 different people they would come up with 10 different ideas. All of a sudden I went into another shell because I didn't know whose advice to take. I decided to leave all the advice aside and bat the way I had been batting since I was 13. I thought I would succeed at some point.
Q:You then played club cricket for SSC and rebuilt your confidence. A: It was much easier and the pressure was less. I kept scoring consistently at club level and put together a couple of big scores. I found it much easier to step into the big league after that. Some geniuses can jump from school to Test cricket but it was too difficult for me.
Q: The retirement of Asanka Gurasingha after the 1996 World Cup finally gave you the opportunity to make a comeback in his number three position. You started with 25 and 22 at Dunedin and soon established yourself in the side with a maiden hundred at, ironically, Chandigarh. Since then your average has been climbing. How do you reflect back on your career now?
A: I think I have achieved a lot considering that I have got 18 ducks in Test cricket and I am still averaging around 38. I am a great believer that if you get a start in Test cricket - and in our eleven now, I am the worse starter - you should not throw your wicket away. I always try to make the maximum out of every innings. I see some of the young guys get great starts but then not capitalise.
Q: You think the young players have a lot to learn then?
A: If they are to be successful when they finish their careers they better think now and get their act together and get big scores for us. Otherwise they are going to regret the failure to make the most of the good starts. This team has tremendous potential without any doubt, but its high time some of the youngsters learnt to value their wickets as batsmen and be consistent as bowlers.
Q:What does the one-day team need now?
A: We are desperately in need of a fast bowling allrounder. There is a definite opportunity for one in the team. The same applies for the Test team. I personally think that Suresh Perera is the automatic choice for the position. But not at the moment, simply because he's not putting in enough and his thinking is not right. He is the kind of player that can walk into the side with his ability to contribute in all three departments of the game.
Q: Have you enjoyed the captaincy so far?
A: Captaining the country has been a dream come true. There is nothing better than that - it's the highest honour that you can achieve as a player. It is though a big responsibility and the pressure grows when the team fails to live up to expectations.
Q: What Test innings do you rate as your best?
A: My double hundred against Pakistan at Kandy in 1999-00. I was hit twice on the head by Wasim (Akram) before getting into double figures. It wasn't the easiest conditions to bat, being overcast when we started. I then had to stay on 199 for about a day because of the rain. That was the time that I concentrated most in a single innings.
Q: And your best one-day innings?
A: I still back the 132 not out against England at Lord's in the Emirates Cup in 1998, against the hundred (124) I scored against South Africa at Durban during the World Cup this year.
Q: What ambitions do you have for the future?
A: Personally, I have always said that if I can average 40 in both forms of the game I'll be happy at the end of my career.