February 19, 2011

Excited to play World Cup at home

Mahela Jayawardene looks forward to playing his fourth World Cup

We have been waiting eagerly for this Word Cup to start. It's so exciting to play at home. In Sri Lanka, unlike India or other places, the fans are, yes, fanatic but they also understand the game as well. They know that cricket is cricket; you get good things and bad things. They love us and want us to do well; they will be optimistic, will back us to the hilt, but there is no added pressure on the team.

When you play a World Cup, there is always going to be pressure. It's part and parcel of the whole concept. Sometimes, you can put too much pressure on yourself. Like I did in 2003. I was desperate to do well and ended up with 20-odd runs. As a team, we did well but individually it went pretty bad. That's how it can go sometimes. It was my worst World Cup moment as far as my individual performance goes. It's something I have spoken about to the younger players in the team over the last year or so. We seniors have tried to keep it simple for them: just go out and enjoy yourselves. The focus has been to go out and express. This is a game; you should enjoy playing it. If it comes off its brilliant; if it doesn't then that's the way this game goes. That has been the message to our younger players. We have seen guys like Angelo Mathews do really well in Australia where it was really tough; they came out of it really well.

When you do well in a big game it can do wonders to your confidence. I can vouch for it myself as the semi-final hundred against New Zealand in the 2007 World Cup was a huge turning point for me. That hundred gave me confidence that I can do it at this big stage. Ever since that moment I have probably lifted my game quite a bit and turned into a big-match player. That was my best World Cup moment. I hope that some of the youngsters will script their own individual memorable moments in this World Cup.

The spirit in the camp is upbeat and the preparation has been good. We had West Indies coming over for ODIs. Unfortunately, the first game was rained off after the first half but we played a couple of good games after that with our World Cup squad which was important. Everything went well and the team is synching nicely. We tested a few players in the warm-up game and had a good run chase against West Indies. All in all, everything looks good.

Some people have asked me whether I will open the batting in this tournament. It all depends on our tactical thinking. In the last six months, even in Australia, Upul Tharanga and Dilshan have batted really well and I don't see why we need to change that combination. Opening was a really good challenge for me especially at this stage in my career and it's something I really enjoyed. Hopefully, when the opportunity presents itself, I can continue doing well in that position.

As a team, getting to the quarter-finals will be our first small target. We need to concentrate on the initial group games and try and set a good momentum. Just focus on one game at a time and enjoy the whole experience.

Will this be my last World Cup? Individually, I will decide on my future after this tournament. I will see how my body feels and assess how much international cricket I have left in me. I definitely don't want to drag myself through international cricket. I want to play as long as I am enjoying and contributing to the team and have the hunger.

Mahela Jayawardene is former captain of Sri Lanka