'Mindset is the most important preparation'
I've been in England for just over a week, and tomorrow I begin my fourth Test series in the country. It's been a busy few days of acclimatisation since I and Kumar Sangakkara arrived from the IPL. We turned up in Derby on the eve of the game against the Lions, which was about as far removed from Kerala as anyone could imagine, and though I made just 1 and 26, the way we turned the game on its head was outstanding, and stands us in great stead for the Test series.
The Lions match was a tough game on a tough pitch, and we were behind for most of the game, then came back strongly on the third day, firstly by batting for four sessions, and then by bowling them out for 183 in the final afternoon. The only sadness is that Nuwan Pradeep, who did so much to change the game with his four wickets, is unlikely to take any further part in the tour.
Everyone's really sad for him, but that's what cricket is all about, especially for fast bowlers. He's been waiting for his opportunity for the last two years, he did all the hard work in the lower grades, and was finally called up to the national team for the first time, and for such a big tour. Unfortunately he landed awkwardly while fielding, and has damaged his knee ligaments. But when he gets better he'll still be in the squad, and there's a lot of good cricket coming ahead for us. He will be ready for that.
It's pretty non-stop for us at the moment, but that's just the way it is these days, and we can't really complain. I know that there has been a lot of talk about burn-out in the England squad after their tough winter at the Ashes and the World Cup, but I view such things slightly differently. You have 15-16 years as an international cricketer, and yes, you need rest and breaks occasionally, but when you are playing quality cricket you have to try to push yourself.
We've been playing non-stop for almost two years now without a proper break and it's going to continue to the end of this year as well. But we've grown up playing cricket like this. There's no winter and summer seasons for us in Sri Lanka, it's cricket all year round and when we're not at home we tour other countries as well. It's choc-a-bloc, so whenever we get an opportunity to spend three or four days at home we enjoy that, then it's back on the saddle again.
I actually think that helped me to get over the crushing disappointment of losing the World Cup final for the second tournament in succession. Man, that was gutting, especially after scoring an 88-ball hundred. But it wasn't just the final that was draining but the whole World Cup, since we were one of the hosts and one of the favourites to go all the way.
In many respects we achieved a lot of our goals and played some wonderful cricket along the way, but I definitely needed some time to get over it. But not too much time, as we were already packing our bags to go to India for the IPL. As they say, a change is as good as a rest, and to start playing a different brand of cricket, and to get my teeth into a new challenge as captain of my franchise, Kochi, really helped get my mind off Mumbai and refocus my energies.
And now we move onto a completely different challenge. A week might not seem like enough time to make the change from Twenty20 to Test cricket, but we are quite used to doing this for the last three or four years, and most of my preparation will be done mentally. The pitches here will be different from one place to the next, and conditions-wise anything can happen given the English weather. So it's all about mindsets, and although I didn't spend much time in the middle against the Lions I felt comfortable, and have had some good net sessions since.
The Cardiff track has a reputation for big runs - I know the Aussies enjoyed batting here two years ago - so I'm looking forward to getting in and getting a big one, and I'm confident I can do that, after making centuries at Lord's in the first Tests of my last two tours of England in 2006 and 2002. It looks like it'll bea good hard surface for the first day, and on the second and third days it might flatten out even more. If our batsmen can get through that initial period, they will get used to the pace and hopefully find it easier.
In recent years we've only ever faced England in the early part of their summer, as we've not been invited in the latter part, and that is something that is beyond our control. But all we can try to do is control situations. It's challenging but at the same time it's what Test cricket is all about. I love these kind of challenges. Some you win, some you lose, but getting up in the morning and knowing you have a big task ahead is a great feeling. I've enjoyed the last two tours here and we've had success as well, with a win at Trent Bridge to draw the series last time around. We believe we can go one better this time.
Thursday is going to be an especially big day for Tillakaratne Dilshan, when he leads the side out for his first Test as captain. He may be inexperienced in that particular role, but he's been a leader in our group for some time now. He's a street-smart guy, he's a fighter, and he has shown that all throughout his career, in the way he has fought his way back into the side after struggling in his early days.
Since he started opening the batting what he's achieved has been remarkable. I know that the young guys will look up to him, while the core of the team - guys like myself and Kumar - will be there to give him advice in different situations. But the key thing is to enjoy your cricket as a captain. Dilshan will keep it simple, and play the way he plays. He's easy going, he loves a challenge, he's free-flowing, and all of this will reflect on the way he runs the side. It will be a challenging time, but a good time for Sri Lanka.
Mahela Jayawardene is former captain of Sri Lanka