March 18, 2011

'Angelo Mathews is a tremendous asset'

Mahela Jayawardene on playing away from home, Sri Lanka's attempt to improve their general knowledge and the batting Powerplay

We are playing our next game in Mumbai and I would like to see it as a positive thing. Yes, it would have been nice to play at home with the home advantage, but it will be good to get used to playing away from home at this stage. You never know, you might have to play the quarter-finals or the semi-finals away from home, and this experience should hold us in good stead. Mumbai is a new venue and it's also where the finals will be played, and so, it's good to get a taste of it. When you play away from home, your preparations are different and you tend to spend more quality time together as a team. The security is tight, you can't get out, you don't have your local friends and other distractions, and you automatically spend more time together.

So what have we been up to in Mumbai? We've played cards and indulged in other such indoor-activities. Eight of us played poker while the rest played other card games. A quiz too is in the fray. It will have couple of rounds about sports, including cricket, and also some general knowledge. Yes, we are trying to improve our general knowledge you see! All these activities help in team bonding and allow us to get some quality time in. There are lots of youngsters, but you won't be surprised to know that Muttiah Muralitharan is still the livewire of the team. It might be his last World Cup but there is no mellowing down, I don't think he can ever do that.

Moving on to cricketing matters, I saw a couple of articles saying that Angelo Mathews has not had a good game yet. People tend to forget that he hasn't got the opportunities. He bats at No. 7 and our top order has done the work so far. He has been consistent with the ball against Pakistan and Zimbabwe. He is a quiet guy and doesn't get bothered by what is going on around him. He is a tremendous asset to us and we have no doubt that when the team needs him, he will deliver with bat and ball.

I have been asked about the trends in the World Cup in general and, in particular, about the batting Powerplay. It has been absolutely fascinating, to say the least. You still have to do the basics right in that phase; you see guys scoring eight or nine runs per over before taking the Powerplay and then they lose wickets and go down to four or five runs per over. The field comes in, the single options become less and they tend to look for boundaries. It's a huge temptation to do that but you have to stick to the basics. You are not going to get big overs, where you score 15 to 20 runs, every day. It's about playing smart cricket; yes lot of teams have got it wrong in most of the games and we, as players, are learning from it. Some days, you just have to be intelligent - make sure you get the six or seven runs per over, and you will get one or two big overs.

So why teams are wary of taking the Powerplay early? Why not use it in the 16th over or 20th over? It depends on the situation and the opposition. The risk in taking it too early is that if you lose two or three quick wickets, you are playing catch-up for the next 30 overs or so. That's too long a period to be doing that. If you take it after 30 or 35 overs, even if you lose wickets, you only have about ten overs of consolidation required before you can finish off the game. You are not playing catch-up for 30 overs and you are not lagging behind all the time. It finally comes down to the match situation - whether you are batting first or chasing, who is in, who are the bowlers likely to bowl in that phase - and hence I find the whole thing very fascinating.

Despite what's happened in the tournament, I still see that Powerplay as a huge batting advantage. What is exciting is that it's a great opportunity for the bowling sides also to pick up wickets. Tactically, you've got to get it right and it's an exciting thing that has happened to cricket as it gives both teams a chance to have an impact on the game.

The World Cup is wonderfully placed at this stage. Most of the big teams are coming through and that's what you want from a tournament of this stature. As a player, the greatest satisfaction comes when you beat the best. From here on, each and every game is going to be a cracker.

Mahela Jayawardene is former captain of Sri Lanka