January 1, 2008

Chance to shine

Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvan Atappatu can't be replaced, but their retirements are opportunities for youngsters to come in and make a mark

Time to move on: Jayasuriya and Atapattu will be missed greatly, but it is time for Sri Lanka to look beyond them © AFP

The retirements of Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvan Atapattu have left a huge void to be filled, because players of that ability don't come along everyday. It's years of hard work that moulds careers like theirs.

When you look at the contribution of a player, the number of runs or wickets or catches they take on the field is only one part of what they bring to the side. Their individuality, their perspective, their personality, their thought processes, and how they interact with the others in the dressing room has a huge influence on what happens on the field.

These were players who had a wealth of experience and who knew how to share that experience in simple and comprehensible terms. They interacted as equals with team-mates of all ages. Sometimes that contribution in the dressing room can be far more valuable that what you do on the field, because your enthusiasm, knowledge and perspectives rub off.

We weren't ready with replacements of the same quality or ability, but we were ready with replacements who had the ability and potential to be as good. One of the lessons we have learned from this transition is that when change comes without warning - not that we weren't prepared - it can cause a bit of imbalance in the side, in terms of slotting players into positions and having a firm pecking order as to who is next in line.

You can always put up a brave front and say you were always prepared to play without them and everyone was ready to share the responsibility. But if you're being brutally honest, you always tend to think at some point before the game: "Oh, we don't have these two players with us." And that puts a bit of pressure on the side.

The key is to use that extra pressure and doubt to inspire a better performance from the side and from yourself. Other players have to take individual responsibility for what happens in the game and say, "Well, if they are not there, I am going to do the job. Today and everyday, it is going to be me. I am going to go out there and do what the side requires."

It's a process that we have to get used to. It won't happen overnight, but we have to accept that. This is the reality of not just cricket but life as well. Things change, nothing stays the same, and you have to change too - you have to evolve and become better. Of course, we will speak fondly of Sanath and Marvan, but the stark reality is that Sri Lanka cricket has now got to move beyond that era and change and evolve.

We're losing a huge amount of ability and experience, but at the same time we gain new ability, perspectives and energy. What everyone hopes for is that one offsets the other quickly enough to retain balance and focus in the side

In a way we find ourselves in a similar situation to the time Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva retired. When Arjuna and Aravinda went, that was a huge change for Sri Lankan cricket, and of course, we grew beyond. Now we have two more wonderful cricketers leaving, and we have to grow beyond that.

All said and done, it is a reality of life and cricket that players come and players go and teams are renewed. Change is something that should be welcomed and embraced because it is inevitable. We have to be positive about the change and about what comes out of the change - the opportunities it creates for youngsters to play for Sri Lanka. We're losing a huge amount of ability and experience, but at the same time we gain new ability, perspectives and energy. What everyone hopes for is that one offsets the other quickly enough to retain balance and focus in the side.

If you are a newcomer and you are opening in place of Sanath, you have got to realise that you are not expected to be the next Sanath or the next Marvan. We want you to be the player you are and to perform to the best of your ability. That is all you can ask of a new player. If a new player comes in with the idea that he is replacing Sanath and he has to be as good or better than him, he can't do himself a bigger disservice. He is not replacing Sanath because he is the next Sanath, but because he is the best player to replace him. If the team is expecting him to be the next Sanath, that is wrong too. We have to appreciate the player coming in for who he is.

All the players we have currently playing in the side are not just replacements, they are quality players who have been chosen on ability and quality. We expect them to take Sri Lankan cricket into a new era. These are the cricketers that have to come in and make Sri Lankan cricket their own and leave an imprint on it.