'When you get a chance, you need to cash in'
Michael Vandort's hundred in the second Test against England has not only given him immense satisfaction, it has also silenced the critics who had questioned his ability to score runs against opponents other than Bangladesh.
A pair in the four-day game against England A at Worcester reduced his chances of opening with Upul Tharanga in the first Test. But Jehan Mubarak's failure at Lord's gave him a break as the team management thought it fair to give him an opportunity to stake a claim for the opener's berth.
"Most of the guys had a bad game there [against England A]. You couldn't put the full blame on the wicket. We played some bad shots as well. I didn't give up. I kept practising with the bowling machine and with the coaches who were encouraging me and helping me," said Vandort. "It was a matter of getting your chance and when you get it, you need to cash in."
Although Vandort's 105 in six-and-a-half hours failed to avert a six-wicket defeat, it may have saved his place as a Test opener. "I am really confident now and have proven to myself that I can make runs and that I can stay at the wicket," said Vandort. "Sometimes I do tend to premeditate and play shots. That has led to my downfall most of the time. I thought on this occasion that I would play the ball on its merit and it worked really well for me.
"To get one [a century] against England, rather than Bangladesh, was really important. I thought I'd concentrate hard and somehow get some runs under my belt and for my team, which I didn't do in the first innings. Everyone needed to put their heads down and bat and I managed to do that to a certain extent. I could have gone on without getting out at 105. Even though I was batting with Murali at the other end, I could have stuck it in there and got another 30-40 runs at least to give England a fight."
The moment to savour came when he pushed Andrew Flintoff for a single to extra cover. "It was a satisfactory hundred which I've been working hard for even back in Colombo and after coming here with Tom [Moody] and TP [Trevor Penney]. A lot of credit should go to them as well as my team-mates. They supported me a lot throughout this tour," said Vandort. "Everyone back at home has been encouraging me and supporting me. I was really happy that everything that I had worked hard for finally came through.
"I was trying to establish myself as an opener and I showed some patience, which I had not shown in the past even at club cricket. The century gives me a certain amount of satisfaction because the concentration power that was lacking a couple of years back has improved. I am really satisfied with the innings but would have been more satisfied if the result was different."
What really helped Vandort improve his powers of concentration was the time he spent with Sandy Gordon, the sports psychologist, at the start of the tour. "Sandy has been a great help to me and most of the team members. On the field if you are sledged and there is no crowd support, it tends to put pressure on you. Sandy told us not to listen to them but to focus on ourselves. I focussed on myself not thinking of anything else and concentrating on each and every ball."
The biggest influence in Vandort's career has been his father Patrick Vandort who played cricket for St John's College, Dematagoda and Nomads SC. "My dad has been coaching me ever since I was nine years old. He still comes for every match I play in Colombo or outside. Unfortunately he didn't get a chance to come to England. He has been very supportive of me and a lot of credit should go to him," said Vandort. "I spoke to him after the Test and he was really happy. Although I got a hundred, he had watched me on TV and gave me a few tips on some mistakes I made during the innings. He said that I should have left a few more balls outside off stump."
Although Vandort hails from a Dutch background he is not so familiar with his family's roots. "I don't have any idea how far it goes except that my father and grandfather played cricket." Though educated at St Joseph's College in Colombo, Vandort played only one match for the first eleven. His career blossomed after joining CCC where he slammed two double-centuries and a hundred in five matches during his first season. That remains his best season so far in an eight-year first-class career.
At 26, Vandort is still willing to bide his time. "Sanath [Jayasuriya] and Marvan [Atapattu] have been great players to the country. No matter how well you perform if they are there they will have to play until they retire or whatever. I think patience is the key. You need to keep performing and be patient and when you get your opportunity try and cash in."