January 27, 2004

Mubarak waits for his window

Wisden CricInfo Staff

As Sri Lanka's senior statesmen - Sanath Jayasuriya (34), Hashan Tillakaratne (36) and Marvan Atapattu (33) - near the end of their careers, a flock of youngsters are jockeying for position, hopeful of stepping into their hero's shoes.

Tillakaratne Dilshan has now claimed the berth vacated by Russel Arnold and Thilan Samaraweera's sheer bloody mindedness and consistency mean that he's a hard man to leave out of the top seven. There appear to be no vacancies in the top order.

Mubarak
© CricInfo

But aspiring talents cannot afford to be disheartened. They know that injuries could strike at anytime. Tillakartne's retirement is also looming, perhaps not this year but probably in 2005. If his form deserts him then the end could come sooner.

If and when a window of opportunity opens, the likes of Russel Arnold, Jehan Mubrak, Michael Vandort, Chamara Silva, Naveed Nawaz, Avishka Gunawardene and Thilina Kandamby -- all of whom are now playing in the A team - know they have to grab their chance quickly or forever be a nearly man..

Mubarak is one man looking forward to making an impression. A tall, well-spoken and intelligent left-hander - a product of Royal College no less - he's tasted the international stage and is now determined to fight his way back into the team.

"I am looking forward to getting back in the side," he says, betraying inner confidence with the conviction that his time will come. "This Inter Provincial Tournament is a very good chance for me to prove my form and class."

"There are only a few openings in the national team and there are a lot of players waiting. But with so much cricket now being played the break could come at anytime - you have to be ready to grab it with open hands."

But Mubarak's form thus far has not been compelling: 154 runs in the first three matches at 25.66 with a top score of 61. His performance during the Sri Lanka A tour of India was not entirely convincing either: 114 runs at 19 in the three unofficial Tests.

However, Mubarak did make his mark in the final of the Kenstar Limited Over Tournament also involving India and Pakistan. Sri Lanka were the underdogs but they pulled through when it mattered most with Mubarak top scoring with 61.

"Everybody played well as a team and I was very proud to be part of it and happy that I could make a contribution, especially in the final," says Mubarak. "Hopefully it will help me get back in the team."

Mubarak first broke into the team against Bangladesh in July 2002. He then toured South Africa and was given an unexpected chance in the second Test at Centurion after Jayasuriya injured his ankle. He opened the innings and battled hard for his 48.

Bizarrely though he hasn't played since; mainly because a short run in the limited overs team - in Australia and South Africa, perhaps the toughest of tours - produced meager results: 68 runs in seven innings with a top score of 20.

But Mubarak did not despair. Instead, after a period of self-analysis, he's rolled up his sleeves and started working on his game, especially his mental approach and shot selection.

"I need to work on my consistency," he admits. "Occasionally, I make a big score but I need to do that constantly and learn to not throw away my wicket away. So what I am working at the moment is just to find a good range of shots."

"It's really a lack of concentration at times when I get set. When you are seeing the ball well you tend to feel that you can play a shot to every ball. But that is not the case. I need to play the correct shot for the right ball."

Naturally languid and a man to whom sporting success appears to come easily (he was a record-breaking junior level swimmer and the reigning 50 metre butterfly stroke national champion), Mubarak has been criticised for a casual approach.

He disagrees: "I've been told by a lot of people that I don't the game seriously enough but I don't think that's so. Maybe it's because of the way I like to play the game - I like to enjoy it and I play in the middle to have fun."

No one should be slammed for enjoying the game, but there should also be no doubt that Mubarak needs to tighten up his game and adopt a more hard-nosed attitude. If he does, blessed with the natural talent he undoubtedly has, the future could be bright.

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