March 10, 2011

'Solidity of middle order has helped me and Kumar'

Mahela Jayawardene on how the World Cup is shaping up, the rained-out game against Australia, his own form and more

It's been an exciting World Cup so far. At the beginning when people asked me to name the favourites, I had told them there is no clear favourite. And now we know why! Any of the top teams can win this. There have been surprises like Ireland beating England ; we always knew there will be one or two games like that. Netherlands played couple of good games. But because of the format we knew that if the big teams play some good cricket, they will get through.

We played Australia last and took a lot of positives out of that game. They are a strong and competitive side and to have the game under control at the point when the rains came down was a good thing. Weather is not under our control and so there is no point worrying about it; we got a point from it and we need to concentrate on the next game.

We have told the youngsters to take one game at a time, not worry about what's gone and just enjoy the World Cup. We normally take a couple of days off after playing a game and regroup for the next. We try to give small goals to the players which help them a lot.

There have been some murmurs about our openers' form. Both have been hitting the ball well and gave us a good start in couple of games. They didn't provide us with a good one against Australia but such things are always going to happen. The only thing we want from them is to spend more time in the middle and bat longer; the runs will come automatically.

I am confident about the way I am batting. I started off with a hundred, didn't bat against Kenya, got a very good ball from Shoaib Akhtar and was batting well against Australia when that run-out happened. I have to make sure I make a difference in the big games.

The solidity of the middle order has helped me and Kumar Sangakkara bat freely at the top of the order. Thilan Samaraweera is a perfect fit at No.5 and he has a burning desire to excel at that position. He calms the nerves and settles the middle order with his solidity.

Chamara Silva comes next and we are happy to have him in the groove. His sister passed away at the beginning of the tournament and he had to go away. When he came back, we asked him how he was feeling and started to slowly ease him back into play. The first game he played was a tough one, against Pakistan, and though he started slowly, he started looking good by the end. His form is vital to our chances. He has loads of experience and had a great last World Cup. If he can continue batting well, it will give more freedom to Kumar and other batsmen batting higher up. We are happy to have him back in the team. The batting line-up looks good with Thilan, Silva and Angelo Mathews batting in the lower middle-order.

We went with a spin-heavy attack in the last game against Australia but it all depends on the conditions and the opposition. We are lucky to have bowlers with different skills, in spin and pace, and we can mix and match according to our strategy. Nuwan Kulasekara, who missed the game against Australia, is a fine, shrewd bowler who will play a big part in our campaign. It was just in that game, on that pitch, we felt it would be better to play an extra spinner.

We play Zimbabwe next; they are a good side and we can't be complacent. We have to remain positive and execute our plans.

Mahela Jayawardene is former captain of Sri Lanka