November 10, 2004

Hashan Tillakaratne aims for final comeback

Sri Lanka's selectors have indicated a clear desire to look the future, but that has not quashed Hashan Tillakaratne's hopes of making a final surprise comeback into Test cricket. Tillakaratne, now 37, still believes he has a role to play.

This though appears unlikely, especially as Tillakaratne, in his first major interview since standing down as captain in March, immediately after Australia completed a historic whitewash, claims that he failed to win total support from his team and the cricket board as captain.

"I am fit and as long as I am getting runs I don't have to think of retiring from the game," said Tillakaratne, who played 83 Tests. "I always enjoy my game of cricket and I want to continue playing domestic cricket with the idea of getting back into the national team."

But Tillakaratne is still struggling to emerge from the barren spell with the bat that started soon after taking over the Sri Lanka captaincy. He started on a high note, averaging 118.50 against New Zealand, but his next 14 Test innings produced just one fifty.

"I have not been in the runs since I was taken off the Sri Lanka captaincy," he admits. "But I met Rumesh Ratnayake recently and he pointed out the mistakes I had been making in my batting. He gave me a few tips that really helped me to get runs last weekend. I made 90 against Sebastianites in the Premier trophy and I am looking forward to proving my form to the selectors. I want to get back as soon as possible."

"The selectors told me to take a rest as captain after the Australian series and that they would pick me again. But it hasn't been the case," he said. "They want me to get runs to consider me for selection. We all know that our middle order is still brittle. What I need is to get some runs to get back in the side. I want to get back and start performing again," he said.

After the 1999 World Cup debacle Tillakaratne was one of the few senior players who were overlooked for selection. He was out of Test and one-day cricket for two years before he was again given the nod to represent his country in the home series against India in 2001. Tillakaratne grabbed the opportunity with both hands and went onto compile 1053 runs from 17 Tests at an average of 75.21.

When Jayasuriya decided to retire from the captaincy after the 2003 World Cup, Tilllakaratne was the surprise choice as Test captaincy while Marvan Atapattu, who appeared the natural heir, was handed the one-day captaincy.

With hindsight, he appears to rue the responsibility. "Captaining is a disadvantage to get into the side. When the selectors named me as Test captain some of the hierarchy in the Cricket Board didn't like it," said Tillakaratne. "We didn't perform to expectations. Although everyone helped me and supported me it was so unfortunate we couldn't come up trumps."

"There were many reasons for not winning. Looking back at the Australian series I have been thinking whether the team actually played to its potential. We lost all three Tests after being in very good positions to win. Then there was this scandal involving Marvan (Atapattu) and the money found in his hotel bedroom in Kandy -- I am sorry to say that as captain I didn't get the support I deserved from him."

This outright criticism of Atapattu, who was completely cleared of any wrongdoing in the bizarre scandal, and veiled criticism of some of his teammates may not help his chances of winning back his place. But Tillakaratne has long been a fighter and he will not give-up hope easily.

"If you take my record in New Zealand it is better than most members of the team," he said. In seven tests he has scored 395 runs (avg. 32.91) with one century and two fifties. Overall, against New Zealand he has accumulated 819 runs (avg. 43.10) with two hundreds and four fifties.

Those are figures for the selectors to ponder, but the odds on a recall are very long.