Allrounders give Sri Lanka balance for World T20 - Jayawardene
How was the SLPL as a lead-in to the World Twenty20?
I was a bit scared with the SLPL being played so close to the tournament, whether we'd have more injuries, but everything went pretty well. A lot of the guys had good preparation and hit good form, now we just need to fine tune a few areas, we need to assess certain teams, conditions and formulate a game plan.
You got a good look at the pitches in Pallekele and Colombo. How big an advantage is that?
In Pallekele and Colombo it gave us a good idea of how it would play under lights and during the daytime, so it will definitely help our guys, since we know exactly what to expect and can prepare for that. Hambantota is the only place we haven't played much cricket, so we have to be mindful when we play the first two games there.
Were you surprised how much seam movement there was, particularly in Pallekele?
I was a little surprised, but the strips that we played on were the outer strips that aren't being used for the World T20, and haven't had many matches played on them. Under lights, Pallekele seems to do quite a bit. Khettarama [the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo], I thought was a true track, with a bit in it for everyone, but if a batsman gets in, they can score runs as well. The ball comes onto the bat a lot more than the slow, sluggish wickets we've had in the past. Our batsmen enjoy that, because strokeplay becomes much easier for us as well. We just need to adapt and I'm quite confident we can do that.
The SLPL brought two new talents into the limelight: Dilshan Munaweera and Akila Dananjaya. What are you expecting from them?
Dilshan's been on our radar for quite some time. He has been in the A team, touring and doing quite well. I think he has struck a rich vein of form in the last 12 months. The SLPL gave us an opportunity to watch him live, under pressure, and he batted really well. He looks a very exciting prospect for us in the future.
Akila is someone that I felt, "Let's give him an opportunity to play in a provincial tournament." I never expected him to do well, I just wanted him to get the exposure and the confidence that he can play at that level. Everyone was surprised at how well he bowled and how composed he was. I think the selectors were quite happy with him being in the squad, which I was surprised at as well. Hopefully he gets an opportunity to play, but even if not he'll still get a lot of experience and it will be a good investment for us for the future.
Dananjaya has only played a handful of professional games. Is there concern about exposing him to international cricket too early?
That's a decision we have to take. We have to see how he reacts and handles himself around the squad. From what I've seen in the provincial tournament, he doesn't look scared at all. We'll assess him in the next two weeks. We've got two senior spinners [Rangana Herath and Ajantha Mendis] in the squad who can do the job, but if Akila is up to the task, we will use him.
Is the prospect of bowling Dananjaya in tandem with Ajantha Mendis a tempting one?
(Laughs) That will be a very interesting prospect, definitely. But first we'll have to formulate some game plans and see how we execute them, and then take a call on how comfortable we are with that combination.
What makes Dananjaya such an exciting find?
He has got the variations, the control and he's difficult to read as well. He has got a pretty similar wrist action to Murali, so he gets a lot of rip on the ball, and he varies his pace, which is more like a conventional spinner compared to Ajantha. Ajantha is a lot more accurate, has a bit more pace on the ball and it's difficult to pick him. Both of them will give us different options with different teams and conditions, so that's what we're looking out for.
You batted mostly at Nos. 3 or 4 in the SLPL, but you usually open the batting for Sri Lanka. With Munaweera in the side, will you move down the order?
I've been opening for Sri Lanka, but we'll have to figure out what our best batting combination is by looking at who's in form and who we can use in different situations. We'll have to see where I fit into that, whether it's three, four, five, or whether I open the batting.
You have your first match against Zimbabwe in Hambantota, which can be one of those tricky venues that can throw up a freak result. How are you approaching that?
I think everyone in the team understands the challenges Hambantota poses, and we need to assess the conditions and play a good game of cricket. It's T20 and I've always said this format is about making fewer mistakes. You can't come back into the game if you're making frequent mistakes, so we'll just be trying to limit that.
What do you see as Sri Lanka's strengths going into the tournament?
We have the advantage of knowing the conditions and that the crowd will be behind us. Other than that, we've also got two or three very good allrounders in Angelo [Mathews], Thisara [Perera] and Jeevan [Mendis], so we'll be looking to maximise that. They give us a lot of options in our team combination, so we can pick more batsmen or more bowlers to suit conditions and opposition, and still have a balanced team. Also we have a young unit that has been together for a while, and everyone knows their role in the team. We'll get the two new guys to fit into that.
You've also got Tillakaratne Dilshan and Nuwan Kulasekara, who can contribute in both disciplines. Are you concerned, having so many allrounders, that players will lose focus on their main skill?
Dilly's got a different role in the side. What he's going to contribute with the ball is going to be a plus for us. Kule, we need to see how he's going with his rhythm. He was injured and only started bowling a couple of weeks ago, so we'll give him a few games and see how he feels. I don't think there will be a problem with that because everyone knows what they have to do and what their focus is. If I have all those guys it gives me options; if you have some guys who aren't hitting their stride, I can keep rotating the bowlers and one bowler having an off day won't hurt us.
Which teams do you expect to be difficult to beat?
In T20 cricket everyone has a chance. Pakistan, South Africa and Australia look good. West Indies have a really good line-up, and India has a very strong batting line-up. New Zealand has good all-round strength as well. That's a difficult question to answer in T20 cricket, because the game is shorter and it gives a big opportunity for teams like Zimbabwe and Bangladesh as well.
Sri Lanka has been in two World Cup finals and a World T20 final in the last five years, but have been runners-up each time. Is there a psychological hurdle there?
I've always said that playing in big tournaments and playing well is a big plus. Yes, we've stumbled in a few finals in the last five years, but I look at it in a positive way and say 'we're getting there and doing the right thing'. Preparation has been going well, so next time we get to that situation we will try not to buckle, and look to execute and finish a good game. The important thing is for us to be as consistent as possible.
In the past, you've seen yourself as a caretaker captain in this stint at the helm. Is that still the case?
It is still the case. For me the job is to try and build younger leadership in the unit. It's important that while Kumar [Sangakkara], Dilshan and I are still there that we help out those future leaders, so that when we leave, we don't leave behind a team that has no direction. I've told the selectors that I'll be there till the end of the tour of Australia [in December-January]. I'll assess where we are as a team then, and what the younger guys are capable of, and make a call.
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's correspondent in Sri Lanka