March 27, 2011

'Memories of 2007 World cup resurfacing'

Mahela Jayawardene on reaching a third consecutive World Cup semi-final, drawing the same opposition as 2007 and the performance against England

The next week is definitely the most important week of our cricket lives. We know we are two games away from fulfilling a dream we came so close to fulfilling four years ago. We also know that one mistake can be enough to end that dream. And a World Cup comes only once every four years. The memories of that campaign in the West Indies come back to us, but it is important to stay in the present moment. The reality is, four years have passed, we have come a long way, in our preparation and in what we have done.

Two matches away, but we need to take it one game at a time. That's what we have done this entire tournament, and we will keep doing that. It is an exciting time in every player's life, but at such times there is a fine line between enjoying it and letting it become a pressure for you. We have spoken to the guys and asked them to try and live a normal life. Try and keep your feet on the ground. Make sure you do everyday things the way you have been doing them, and just carry on with life. Don't make any changes.

Our preparations haven't changed at all for the knockouts. We have kept it simple: the same routines, practice and everything else. We have our team get-togethers, with family and friends if they are around, and just hang out with them to make sure that we don't think too much about what's in front of us. It is important because what is going to happen in the future you don't have any control over right now, but what you have control over is the preparation you go through, and also the way you enjoy that preparation.

It's not easy to stay away from distractions at this stage of the tournament because everybody wants a piece of you. You have to realise they are all fans and once you play cricket, you are part and parcel of the whole cricket frenzy in the subcontinent. You have to accommodate that as well. I think the more you start trying to say no to that, you tend to give in to it, and make it a distraction. You have to embrace that as well, and make sure you all enjoy that in a way that it's not going to be a distraction. That's part of the fun.

Most of our team members have been here before. They played a final in 2007. For the newcomers, we have asked them to be excited about the whole thing. From what I have seen they are enjoying their cricket, and they have enjoyed the journey so far. We have asked them to just continue to do that, rather than tell them, "Okay you are going into a World Cup semi-final." Just enjoy the ride, the moment.

We have come here through a near-perfect performance in the quarter-final against England. Near-perfect because we dropped three catches. Now that you think about those catches, we can afford ourselves a little laugh. You think you need to take the half chances to win matches, but these were the really easy ones. Half chances might go our way, might not go our way, but I am sure now the guys will hang on to those kind of easy ones. The three players who dropped those catches are our lesser experienced players when it comes to playing World Cup knockout games, so it could have been nerves too. They are all relieved the way we finished the game off after that. They have all realised their mistakes. We have had a good laugh about the way they dropped those catches.

The only big drawback of that period, when Jonathan Trott and Eoin Morgan had put together a partnership, was that we felt we got rattled a bit. That's something we have spoken about as well. We have told our guys those things can happen, but we cannot let ourselves get rattled.

A big positive about these moments is that we have a big pool of match-winners that we can rely on. On that day it was Lasith Malinga who bowled superbly at the death, on other days it can be anybody: Muttiah Muralitharan, Angelo Mathews, Ajantha Mendis. That's the luxury we have, and up to now we have used that luxury really well.

Another reason why the memories of the 2007 World Cup are coming back is that we are facing the same team in the semi-finals as we did then. And New Zealand have our fullest respect, even though we have had success against them. It's a semi-final, and they will be charged up. They were surely charged up when they faced South Africa in the quarter-final. We will never underestimate them. We have understood exactly how tough they can be. We saw the way they finished off South Africa, how good they can be. We have to make sure we don't give them those opportunities. And we just need to make sure we concentrate on our strengths and enjoy the game.

Mahela Jayawardene is former captain of Sri Lanka