'It's time our batting started winning matches for the team'
Twenty-three-year-old batsmen Dinesh Chandimal and Lahiru Thirimanne were named captain and vice-captain for the first two matches of the ODI series against South Africa. The move was a strong signal from Sri Lanka's selectors - that they expect both men to inherit the top-order mantle that will eventually be vacated by Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. ESPNcricinfo spoke to the two about expectations, batting in unfamiliar positions, and making their way into the international team.
When you first come into the Sri Lanka team as a young batsman, what do you work on?
Lahiru Thirimanne: I haven't changed a lot, technically, since I came into the team, but I have thought a lot about changing my batting according to the situation. When should I step out and hit a spinner? What types of balls should I always look to leave in a Test? Those are the kinds of things we work on inside the first year. Other than that, I think Marvan aiyya [Atapattu] doesn't like to change a lot about the way you bat, because that's what got you this far.
Chandimal, you've spoken of being in a form rut at the moment. As a young player how do get out of that?
DC: I had a lot of coaching during April. There were a few small technical problems in my game. I worked those out with Marvan aiyya. That said I haven't been scoring many runs since then. But every sportsman goes through bad patches. No matter how hard you work on it, sometimes you don't get the rewards. That isn't just in cricket but in life as well - whether you're running a business or playing another sport, it's the same. At other times things happen for you when you haven't worked towards it. You have to weigh all that up in your approach to the game.
I know that I haven't done well in the recent past, and I take full responsibility for that, but it's also not easy to score a lot of runs at 5, 6 and 7. Any batsman coming in at that time will find it hard to get more than 30 runs - 50 at most. It's a high-pressure position, because you need to score quick runs and retain your wicket as well. It's a cameo role, so I need to figure out how to do that better. I think I will get the rewards for my hard work in the time to come.
You've both batted down the order in ODIs, but which position do you think suits your game best?
DC: I think Nos. 3 and 4 are where I have made a lot of runs. But in the Sri Lanka team there are players who are much better than me, and because of that I have to bat lower. Having said that, if you are truly a good batsman, then you need to know how to bat from No. 1 to No. 11. It's up to me to take that responsibility. I'm doing my best to rise again from the place to which I've fallen.
LT: I'd like to bat at 3 or 4 as well, high in the order. When I was playing for school, I played as an opener or one down - same in the A team and Under-19 side, when I was mostly an opener. Batting at 5, 6 and 7 is tough in ODIs, because you might only get a couple of overs. From match to match the type of innings you have to play differs. And if you give your wicket away at a crucial time, that could contribute heavily to a loss. We have to perform in the spots we are given, though, and hopefully that will give us experience in a range of different situations that will be helpful to us in the future.
The selectors have placed a lot of trust in you and given you places of leadership. Have you talked about how you can repay that faith?
DC: We didn't just start playing together in the last couple of days; we've been in the same teams since we were about 15. We have a good friendship and we know each other's games. When I speak about something, he knows exactly what I mean, because we have a very good understanding. As cricketers and now captains, we talk a lot about what needs to happen for us to win games.
In the first match of this series, some people asked me why I didn't bat myself at No. 5. As a captain I can't just think about myself. We have four left-handers in the middle - Thirimanne, Thisara Perera, Jehan Mubarak and Rangana Herath. If I had gone in and made 5 and got out, there is a string of left-handers to follow, and that makes it very easy for the bowlers, because they don't have to change their line at all. Those are the kinds of things that you have to think about as a captain.
LT: As the two youngsters in the team, we've been given a long run by the selectors. We can't make excuses about inexperience anymore. It's time that our batting really progressed and started winning matches for the team.
How big is the difference between the standard of Sri Lanka's domestic circuit and international cricket?
DC: I see a massive difference, especially recently. It's really tough for players who come into the international scene, and I've seen that myself. It's really important that the domestic standard improves in the future.
As players trying to currently bridge the gap between the domestic and international standard, what do you think needs to happen to make that transition easier?
DC: I think the biggest thing is to have fewer teams in our domestic tournaments. We should then push all our talented players into that - the standard goes up a lot. If we had a set-up where the most talented cricketers play each other regularly and the best one gets picked, it wouldn't be so hard for that person to adjust to international cricket. But that said, everyone has problems. Look at Australia now. They are really struggling with their combinations, so it's not just us.
LT: We have 20 teams now, and in some of those teams, there will be just one good bowler in the attack. The rest are average bowlers. You can play that one guy out and score your runs off the rest. In international cricket, every single bowler in the attack is top-class. You don't get so many loose balls, and that is a big challenge when you're new.
We already have a provincial tournament, and in that only five teams play, so the best of the 20. That is really competitive. I think the longer we can play that tournament, the better. I think that tournament can be something like the state tournament in Australia.
You've been around for a little while. What advice do you have for a player like Angelo Perera, who is on the brink of coming into the side?
DC: He's a great talent, and like Thirimanne I've played with him since we were 15. I think the most important thing is being consistent and cutting down on your mistakes. We have some great senior players in the side, and we would be stupid not to watch the good things that they do and incorporate those things into our own game. We have to learn the things that make you successful at the top level for a long time. Even if you're not playing a lot of matches in a tour, there's no point just sitting around and watching. The seniors are a resource for us to ask questions from, and I still go and talk to them about my weaknesses. I think the key to surviving in that early period is to make as few mistakes as possible.
What things do Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara do that you want to bring into your own game?
DC: Even off the field, they are always talking about cricket. They talk about bowlers and how they can get runs off them, they talk about certain conditions and what they need to make runs there. Before every match, they are talking about that match and that pitch, and by the time they get there they have a plan in their heads on how to be successful.
The way they work hard at practice is also important. They work and work on their techniques and they clear all their weaknesses before they go to the match. We are lucky because we get to talk to them, and that way you learn more than from just watching them as well. They give great advice.
LT: I've really liked watching Kumar Sangakkara bat since I was a kid, and Aravinda de Silva as well. They were my idols. I have a long way to go before I get to that level. Sangakkara is the best in the world right now in terms of how he builds an innings. I want to try to emulate that. It's not an easy thing to learn.
How do you find foreign conditions for batting, in comparison to pitches at home?
DC: The way I see it, at this stage of my career, Sri Lanka is the hardest place to bat - for me at least. I think a lot of other batsmen in the team will say that as well. There is uneven bounce and pace here, which isn't there in overseas pitches, where the ball just comes through at the same pace. Here some balls stay low, others stop on the pitch. I guess it depends on your own game as a batsman, as to how it affects you.
Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here