'I'd like to play for another six months'
Read part one of the interview here
Moving on to the 1996 World Cup - can you talk about the knock against India in Delhi?
The Delhi match was unique. When India got 275, we never expected to win. But once Kalu [Romesh Kaluwitharana] and I went after the new ball, India didn't know what was going on. My 79 came off 76 balls. It was one of the best things in that tournament, when we chased that target easily. The highlight for me was getting a lot of runs against [Manoj] Prabhakar. We made 50 in the first four overs and most of the runs I made against Prabhakar. He was one of the most difficult bowlers I faced early in my career because of the swing he could get. But on that day I felt really nice and I didn't want to stop.
What about the 82 against England in the quarter-final?
That was a must-win match. In the team meeting I raised a concern about never having faced [Phil] DeFreitas, and said I might find it difficult. Arjuna just said, "Don't worry about the names, just go out and hit."
Which are your best innings in Tests and ODIs?
In ODIs, the 189 in Sharjah against India remains the best. The next best was the 152 at Headingley, where we were chasing 322, which we got to in less than 40 overs. In Test cricket, the 213 [at The Oval in 1998] will always remain at the top, followed closely by the 148 against South Africa in Galle in 2000, where I nearly got a hundred in one session.
Interesting that you do not mention the 340 in the 1997 Test series against India. After that knock Sachin Tendulkar said, "I have not seen Don Bradman bat, but I have seen Sanath Jayasuriya. I have not seen a better batsman in my cricketing career…"
I do rate that innings very highly because I was under a lot of pressure as an opening batsman. I do remember the appreciation from Tendulkar. He is legend.
What is it about Tendulkar that stands out for you?
He is very calm, cool, and a pleasant character. It is an unbelievable experience to play alongside him in the IPL for the Mumbai Indians. His only message to me always has been "Keep enjoying and playing your game."
The one ability I would like from Tendulkar is the way he treats every player in the team the same. He understands there is no one special as that will hurt the other players. That and his calm demeanour.
Murali is another individual who has been around as long as you. What is it that makes him special?
He is a very hardworking guy, despite having gone through a rougher time than any other cricketer in this world. The outsiders always had a different attitude towards him but he took everything in his stride and became the world's No.1 bowler. His whole-hearted attitude is amazing.
What I have always admired about Murali is how he is always willing to support new young players: he points out to them how hard it is to be an international cricketer and how difficult it is to be in that position for a long period. He loves to share his insights.
Where would you place him in Sri Lankan's cricket history?
Murali without doubt occupies an important place in our country's history. But Arjuna and Aravinda worked hard to bring him to the important position he is in today in world cricket.
Tell us a bit about Aravinda.
I rate Aravinda as the best batsman ever produced by Sri Lanka. If he wanted, he could get a hundred anytime he wished, in any match, against any opposition. Not everyone can do that. In no time he could race to a half-century - that was the beauty of Aravinda.
He was very useful in my early cricketing life and I am glad I met him, Arjuna [Ranatunga], [Roshan] Mahanama, Asanka Gurusinha and Hashan [Tillakaratne] - these five were the main pillars of Sri Lanka's World Cup success in 1996.
Who are the batsmen you have enjoyed watching?
When my cricket career started, Viv Richards was on his way out of the game but he was still a delight and I loved watching him. Then came Aravinda, Brian Lara, Tendulkar, and now there is Virender Sehwag. All these have different methods to their art.
What is the difference in cricket in the 1990s and in this decade?
The game now is different. There is more technology, and the way players approach the game is different. The bowlers have a better grasp of the batsman's weaknesses and strengths, and the batsman is more aware about where the bowler is going to pitch. In one way it is more difficult now. But also, you cannot say that as a batsman I had an advantage in the 1990s.
Who were the most difficult bowlers to face?
Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Wasim Akram, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne - each one of them was a difficult bowler. You can't find those bowlers now.
Recently asked who he would fancy taking on between Warne and Murali, Tendulkar said he would like to sit in the dressing room and watch them. What about you?
It is a difficult question and you cannot force me to pick one. But I would pick Murali in my team because he has a lot of variety and can bowl a lot of overs.
Earlier you said that technically you don't rate yourself highly, but that you trust your aggressive instincts. Can you explain your method of attack?
It came naturally. I was always an attacking cricketer. I never practised anything specific, but when I became an opener I needed to adjust my technique a little as I had to play straighter. One important thing that has played a big role in my success is hand-eye coordination. If the ball is in my zone, I will always go after it - I might get out, but I might also get runs. Out of 10 attempts I might get eight shots to the boundary while getting out once or twice.
I did not pick on specific bowlers. I would chase every bowler. If you want to succeed you need to take those risks.
How do you switch on and off in the middle?
I rarely switch off when I am batting or bowling. I always focus on what I'm doing. I only switch off during the over breaks.
Paul Farbrace, the former Sri Lankan assistant coach, once said that in the game against Bangladesh at the 2007 World Twenty20 in South Africa, the first ball you faced, you hit in the air and were caught. You came back to the dressing room and said, "Sorry, coach."
As an opening batsman, I had to get some runs. People had expectations from me. So I had to apologise. I do attach a lot of meaning and importance to my wicket, because if I had batted for longer, things would have been different. But having got out in the first over I had put pressure on my team. That's why, as I said earlier, I will always go for my shots and sometimes I might not pull it off.
What have been the most difficult times in your career?
There have been quite a few. But of late, when I was dropped just before the 2007 World Cup and then before the first IPL, I felt hurt. I scored a hundred and many runs in that IPL and one of the government ministers pitched in and convinced the selectors that I needed to be in the side. So I came back during the Asia Cup in Pakistan. I made two centuries and a couple of half-centuries and felt good once again.
What about captaincy? Were you ready for it when it came?
Frankly, I had no idea. I had returned from the 1999 World Cup in England without any runs [82 in five games]. Four or five days after our return, Sidath Wettimuny, who had become the chairman of the selectors, called me at 11 in the night to inform me I'd been appointed captain. I was shocked. There were many other senior players who could have easily been appointed ahead of me. But Wettimuny said the seniors would support me. The main reason given was they wanted to groom me for the future, and since I was playing well I was ready for the job.
My biggest challenge was handling the senior players - Arjuna, Aravinda, Mahanama, Hashan. In fact, Mahanama might have expected to become captain, but he took it in his stride.
The selectors wanted Arjuna and Aravinda to only play Test cricket, as they wanted to reinvigorate the ODI side, focusing on agility and athleticism in our fielding. So the emphasis was on youth. But when our middle order was not up to the mark, I suggested to the selectors that Aravinda be brought back if he could become fitter, which he did, and it worked for a while.
I did my job for four years and then stepped down after Sri Lanka had reached the 2003 World Cup semi-finals. I enjoyed my stint. I didn't have an easy time as a batsman when I was captain, but I steadily started to get runs, and Sri Lanka started winning consistently. After the tour of Sharjah in 2003 I decided on my own to step down. I thought somebody else needed to take over.
Today you are in a position similar to the one your seniors were, where your position in the side is not secure. How do you deal with the challenge?
I am always happy. I know as long as I'm fit, I'm pro-active in the field and can hold catches, I'm still a contender. I am going through a lean patch with the bat for the moment, but I am not worried. I know my form will be back soon. Meanwhile I am fine-tuning in other areas, which will keep me busy as well as prepared.
Which teams have you enjoyed playing against?
India and Australia are highly rated teams and I have always wanted to score against these two. One innings against Australia I forgot to mention was 114 in 2006 in an ODI at the SCG. I had landed in Sydney the previous day and was coming back from injury. The flight was about 20 hours, but I went straight in and played my game. When you play the Aussies they are always tough, and when you score against them it always feels good.
What is your fitness routine?
In addition to the schedule given by the trainer, I do some extra work in physical training, weights, and then the rehab [from injury]. That has helped me stay fit for such a long time. That and the fact that I have always tried to be the best in whatever I do.
You are supposed to be highly superstitious. What are your must-dos?
I touch a spot on my helmet and both my pads before every ball. And after hitting a four or a six I have a habit of going to the middle of the pitch and tapping it. These are just habits I picked up as a youngster.
Does being religious help you?
I've followed the Buddhist philosophy for long. But I have also gone to Hindu temples, and churches. Each time I pray I just ask for happiness, and to become a mentally stronger person. In recent years I have started meditating a lot and that helps me keep cool when I make my decisions.
During the 2007 World Cup final you did not hit a six in your knock of 63. Was that a conscious decision?
I wanted to win that final. Oh, how I dearly wanted that second World Cup medal. Unfortunately Adam Gilchrist spoilt my occasion with his breathtaking innings. As for not hitting the sixes, the Aussie bowlers probably didn't bowl balls I could have taken advantage of. But I must take this occasion to thank Tom Moody and Trevor Penney, the coaches then, who put in a lot of effort to help Sri Lanka.
How did your coaches help you personally?
Dav made us the professional as I've already mentioned.
Bruce Yardley helped me, and the other spinners, with his tactics.
Just like Dav, Tom always gave personal attention to every player. He would push a youngster to the limit and make him train harder. Most youngsters performed when Tom was there.
Personally, I have always felt really nice whenever the coach speaks to me. It doesn't matter if I have played 400 or 500 matches, I'm still susceptible to mistakes. It is always about getting the little things right and it helps you if the coach can point them out. Tom did that. Farbrace did that. Whatmore was the first.
You have played under various captains. Could you highlight what each one stood for or helped you with?
Arjuna always fought for the players and looked after them, and that is why the players always liked him. Marvan [Atapattu] was straightforward in getting the message to the players and I respected him for that. If he backed a player, he would back him 100%. During his captaincy years I went through a very hard period as a batsman and there was a lot of media pressure to drop me, but he stuck to me and I can never forget that. I rated Mahela [Jayawardene] very highly as a captain too.
You recently said "I just can't think of a life without cricket".
What I meant was cricket is my life. If I did not play cricket, my life would be empty. Even if I leave the game tomorrow, I'm happy because I did my part. I sacrificed many things, trained really hard, practised really hard, to come this position. But I know I can't carry on forever. That is why I left Test cricket, and the same would hold for the rest of my cricket. I'm not saying I'm going to play another few more years, but I would like to play for the next six or eight months. I will play hard and then would like to leave.
What's the biggest challenge for you now?
The biggest is to play the 2011 World Cup. Before that, the first challenge is to come out of this lean phase with the bat. I know Sri Lanka are likely to play about 30 ODIs before the World Cup, but I am not thinking that far. I am only thinking of five ODIs at a time, and if I can perform in three out those five, I'm right on track for the next World Cup. I am trying. Obviously if the team management wants to send me a message they should be clear about that to me, as they have been in the past.
Read part one of the interview here
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo