May 31, 2012

The start of World Twenty20 preparations

The games against Pakistan, and the one against India, are the chance to zero in on our perfect Twenty20 squad

It's been a long season on the road for myself, having played a full season of the IPL. I knew it was going to be particularly long so in order to stay fit and alert, I have been trying to keep things simple, focus on my game and manage recoveries properly. Touch wood, things have been okay so far. I also make sure I do not push myself too hard. I don't see us getting any breaks real soon, at least till the next IPL.

There is a lot of Twenty20 cricket being played and over the years, I think our players have got a measure of it to a certain extent. But like any other format, it keeps evolving. People are coming up with new tactics so you need to keep ahead of everybody else. You can't make too many mistakes in the shorter versions.

Personally, Twenty20 has taken me back to the way I used to play. In that sense, the freedom with which I play my strokes doesn't really surprise me because as a schoolboy, this was how I batted. I used to play quite aggressively. When I started playing international cricket, I realised I really had to tighten my game and take more responsibility. In Test cricket you don't always have too much freedom. In one-dayers, for a long period of time you have to build your innings, especially at my position at No. 4. Opening the batting has given me the same kind of freedom I enjoyed as a schoolboy.

I have enjoyed a fair amount of success as an opener in Twenty20, but my presence at the top depends on the team combination. Tillakaratne Dilshan and I have built up a decent opening partnership in the last couple of years or so. Even in one-day cricket I regularly open the batting. We're trying to be more flexible as well, because going into the World T20, we need to have a good idea on what kind of squad we need. We're using these two games, plus the one T20 against India, to find the right combination so we will mix and match. This is the start of an important series for us so we need to make a statement.

It's a fact that we've hardly played Twenty20 cricket as a unit over the last six months. However, if you look at the IPL, quite a few of our players were involved in it in one way or the other so, individually, that's a lot of Twenty20 cricket. With the three upcoming games (two against Pakistan and one with India), plus the upcoming Sri Lanka Premier League, that should be enough to prepare us for the World T20.

Those players who have not had the benefit of match practice in the IPL have been training over the last few weeks on their fitness. The period after the England Tests was the best time to do that. They've also spent time working on their skill sets. We had about six-seven guys training specifically for the Test series and some for the ODIs and T20s. Taking Dinesh Chandimal's example, halfway through the IPL his franchise realised he wasn't going to play so he was sent back to train with the national squad. It was nice of Rajasthan Royals to release him. It has all been done in a systematic way so that the preparation hasn't been compromised.

As for our bowling reserves, I feel Nuwan Kulasekara is right up there to give Lasith Malinga the support he needs. We're trying a few young guys so we need to see how they come up. Thisara (Perera) and Angelo (Mathews) have been around for a while so I'm glad I've got a couple of allrounders I can always bank on. I'm also very excited about Sachithra Senanayake, the offspinner, who had a good time in Australia. Ajantha Mendis is coming back from injury, so we're going to gradually build him up, perhaps try him at some point in the Pakistan series or against India. We rested Rangana (Herath) because he had a knee operation but he might play him in the one-dayers. There's good competition as well and it's healthy.

Pakistan will be a challenge because have a nice blend of youth and experience. From the squad of 15, they've got a lot of variety in their bowling armoury. What makes them competitive is the sort of bowling options available, apart from the specialists. All in all, it should be a competitive T20 series.

Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene is the country's leading Test run-scorer

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