The nuts and bolts of Mahela Jayawardene
Mahela Jayawardene is one of the most complete batsmen in Sri Lankan cricket today, admired for both the elegance of his play and the solidity of his technique. Despite that, he tells Wisden Cricinfo that the quality he aspires to most is consistency.
Are you happy with your batting in both forms of the game?
My form is good and I am feeling really confident at the moment. However, it is disappointing that I haven't had any big ones recently. I have had a couple of opportunities, too - one in the one-day series [against Australia], and [the other] during the Galle Test. In the one-day match we were trying to push on, but the dismissal in Galle was my fault. I got carried away. The runs were flowing and I saw the width and went after it. But the ball was not there. It's a shame because a big score in that situation would have made a big difference. I need to be more consistent.
You had a lean period during the World Cup - what did you learn then?
I have struggled through the bad times and have learnt a few things along the way. The World Cup was pretty bad. I first thought it was my technique. But what I realised was that it was more about confidence and doing the basics well. I mean the real basics, the nuts and bolts of batting: watching the ball and working your way into the innings. I learnt that the hard way and hopefully I won't make the same mistake twice.
Talking about consistency, barring the recent Australia series your form in one-day internationals has been very inconsistent. Does that bother you?
Well, yes, it bothers me, but you have to understand that I was batting in all kinds of positions, shifting up and down the order. That affected my batting. It's not an excuse, it's just that batting at five and six is very difficult in the one-day game. More often than not you come in with no time to play yourself in and you have throw the bat around. I am much more comfortable at four and that is what they want me to do now. They want to settle things down. There will be changes but they want to give Kumar [Sangakkara] and me a steady position to bat.
Are you happy to bat at No. 4?
I would definitely like to bat [at] three or four. When I have been moved down the order I have failed, especially in the one-dayers, as I prefer to build my innings and that means that I need a little more time. I am not the kind of batsman who can go in there and blast the ball all over the place. I have to play myself in and gradually build up the momentum. No. 4 is also a crucial position, a spot where you have to bring stability to the team. In the one-day game you have to keep the scoreboard moving but also have to try to bat through the innings. In a Test match it is a vital position around which the innings is often built. I am happy and comfortable with the responsibility of the position, and enjoy the challenge.
In the longer form of the game you have a good average of 48 but here, too, the ratio between home and away is skewed [60:35]?
Well, I think it would be a surprise if it was the other way around! Home conditions should suit you. I grew up playing on our pitches and I enjoy batting at home. But, to be honest, I don't feel my record is actually that bad overseas. I have not played many Tests abroad, but I have scored runs in England, South Africa and West Indies. I have not made runs in Australia yet but that is because I have not played a Test match there. I mean, an average of 35 is not so bad overseas.
You bat at a position where Aravinda de Silva used to provide solidity and stability. Do you think you are reaching that stage from which you can command more respect from the bowlers?
Aravinda was a different class and type of player. He had the experience and all the shots. He loved to dominate and there is no doubt that he was great. If I can come near to him then that would be fantastic. But I play a totally different game and I am not Aravinda. I have to concentrate on developing my game, a style of game that suits my strengths and weaknesses. I believe I can achieve a lot over the next ten years or so but I also know I have to do that gradually.
You are the vice-captain of the one-day team. If the opportunity comes to lead the side, do you think you are ready?
Only time will decide that, but I am not very keen on taking over the job at the moment. I am concentrating on my batting. If, in the future, an opportunity arises and the selectors want me to lead, then I will think about it. Leading Sri Lanka would be a real honour and privilege. But it is not for me to decide on that. Marvan [Atapattu] has been doing a great job and I am very happy playing under him. My job now is to score runs.
You were first given the vice-captaincy early - was it a burden at that stage?
People keep telling me it was a burden. But I did not feel any real pressure. Expectations were high and I had a couple of games when I did not make big scores and everyone started to blame the vice-captaincy. Look, the reality is that the vice-captaincy is not a high-pressure job. You are there to support the skipper and give advice, something that I already do.
So when expectations are high - how do you deal with that?
If you have a couple of matches when you fail, they call it a slump. That is unfair. I know the expectations are high, but that's life and I just have to put that to one side and concentrate on scoring runs for my country. I cannot worry about what people are saying and what the media are writing.
Who are the former great batsmen you refer to if you want to tackle some technical issue?
I talk to a lot of people, especially the senior players and various coaches. I find it useful to bounce ideas around and get different perspectives. It is then up to me to decide on the right course to take. I also talk a lot to the coaches who looked after me when I was a kid: Lionel Mendis, who runs a cricket school at Nondescripts Cricket Club, and Jayantha Seneviratne, my former school coach at Nalanda. Those two guys know my technique inside out and they are the ones who can identify problems best. If I want advice about mental preparation then I will go to the team coach.
Considering you are one of the top three Sri Lankan batsmen at the moment, it's surprising that you don't have a bat sponsor.
My contract expired a few months ago and I am looking for a new manufacturer. There have been a few offers on the table, but I am in no hurry. It is very important for me to have a good working relationship with that company and I want to have a long-term relationship with a brand that I can honestly endorse. If the right deal and brand comes along, I will take it, but until then I will play without a sponsor.
Finally, what ambitions do you have for the future?
Nothing long-term. And I am not the sort of person to set myself milestones. But I have a few short-term ambitions: I want to score runs in Australia, I want to help Sri Lanka win matches, and I want to be as consistent as I can possibly be.