Practice makes perfect
The first Test at Kandy was a special match. Once we heard Sanath Jayasuriya was retiring, it was always going to be an emotional occasion. Also, Muttiah Muralitharan reached 709 wickets, and Chaminda Vaas was playing his 100thTest. There was fantastic spirit in the team, and we had a lot to play for. The match lived up to the occasion. We came back from 45 for 4, came out of a 93-run deficit, and won it at the end, which was just fantastic.
After the match, the media has been asking me a lot of questions about my batting and run-scoring. The scores would say that I am batting much better than I have ever done before, but it hasn't been a sudden change - it has been a gradual build-up.
My strength in batting has always been that I work hard at practice. Under Tom Moody and Trevor Penney, and with John Dyson and Shane Duff before them, I managed to get a good understanding of what my strengths were, and how I could get better. Moody and Penney always pushed us out of our comfort zone, and that made me want to raise my game. Penney would talk to me about practising every single shot I could possibly play so that I could use them in a game and have options. Everything from a forward defensive to a lofted drive to a sweep to a reverse sweep was practised in the years leading up to this patch.
I have talked to people on how to build an innings; we had a psychologist, Sandy Gordon, and sometimes a few insights here and there from people like that make you understand what you can get better at.
My father has always been behind me. He has coached me since I was small. Whenever we have a chat, he has kept me grounded and focused. It has always been a case of going to him if anything bothers me, or having a chat with the coaches who have seen me since I was 13.
When I go in to bat, I try to keep things simple. I try and watch the ball and I try and make sure I am balanced. Those are the two most important things for me. Everything else I have usually covered through practice.
Building my innings starts with the first run, I try and get off the mark any which way I can. It really doesn't matter if it is an edge or a convincing stroke as long as I score my first runs.
The initial part of the innings depends upon the conditions, too: in Sri Lanka and Australia I'd be attacking early on because the wickets are batting-friendly. I like to get in a position where I am mentally comfortable and in control. I don't look at the scoreboard and I don't count my runs.
Batting with the tail is an important aspect of scoring big. The hundreds in Wellington and Hobart were big ones and came while batting with the tail. How you bat in those circumstances depends on the situation. If you have two or three wickets in hand, you may want to shield the tailender for a while, but once you have confidence in him, you bat like you would with a normal batsman. But if you are trying to save a Test, or the conditions are too bowler-friendly, you may want to farm the strike. More often than not, fielding sides try too hard to finish the innings off. That plays into the batsman's hand - he is allowed to just cruise along when the bowlers are too focused on the tailenders.
|When I go into bat, I try to keep things simple. I try and watch the ball and I try and make sure I am balanced. Those are the two most important things for me. Everything else I have usually covered through practice|
Not having to keep wicket has contributed to my run-making, too. These days I am not so tired when I go into bat; my mind and body are fresh. Also, there is pressure on me to do well with the bat because that's my only discipline: I have always got to deliver the runs. That pressure has worked positively.
When I started off, I was neither a complete wicketkeeper nor a batsman. I probably favoured my batting more than my wicketkeeping. Wicketkeeping has been a bit of a tough job for me, but one I have really enjoyed. Thanks to guys like Ian Healy and Duff, who worked hard on my wicketkeeping, I have managed to bring my keeping up to acceptable standards in international cricket. But it has been a long, tough learning curve for me in both disciplines.
As far as batting goes, I know I definitely need to improve. When you look at Ricky Ponting, Matthew Hayden, Jacques Kallis, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid, they have set the standards in terms of consistently churning out runs. It leaves everyone a message that they have to catch up. I have a long way to go before I get anywhere close to these guys.
But having scored centuries in New Zealand and Australia is special because if you are a batsman, you have to score runs anywhere in the world. To go out of your comfort zone, away from your home ground, and to deliver is what every batsman wants.
The statistics, in terms of the number of runs and number of centuries, are important, but probably only when you are leaving the game. That's when you can look back and say, "Well, I scored 20 or 30 hundreds." Anyone who has scored over 20 hundreds is a very good Test batsman; but if you get to 30 and above, you're better than good.
Contrary to popular belief, the kind of numbers I have put up over the last two seasons haven't really put any extra pressure on me. I like spending time in the middle - myself against the ball. Whatever people say and expect doesn't matter as long as you know you're going about it right.