'Move to opener changed my career' - Dilshan
Tillakaratne Dilshan said his decision to open the innings in Test cricket was the most important in his 14-year career, as he retired from Tests on Thursday.
Dilshan began Tests as a middle-order batsman and had had a middling career until the promotion to the top of the order in 2009. The move paid immediate divdends, as he hit six hundreds and scored 1327 runs at an average of 64.52, in the year.
"The 3-4 years I opened for my country I played with a lot of pride because I was able to give my team a lot of opportunities to win matches," he said. "In the middle order, sometimes, by the time I came to bat there were hardly any partners for me and I couldn't contribute much. I proved how much my team and I benefited from the move to open."
Dilshan was often aggressive at the top of the order, and at his best, could sap attacks and change the complexion of a match inside a session. His Test strike rate since 2009 was 72.79.
"When you open, at least one of the openers should be aggressive otherwise the bowlers will get on top," he said. "When you get a loose ball you must not think that it is the first ball of the innings but hit it for four. You must put the pressure back on the bowler even if it is in a Test match."
"You need to score fast if you want to create situations to win. After I became an opener I proved that being aggressive I created many opportunities for my team to win. If you take any Test side today one of the openers plays aggressive cricket. That has become the norm today."
Dilshan said his decision to quit Test cricket was taken because of the paucity of Test matches at home and to enable Sri Lanka the time to goorm a youngster in his place.
"I started my career in Zimbabwe and planned to retire also in Zimbabwe but unfortunately the tour was postponed. We don't have Test cricket at home till 2015 so I decided to take the opportunity to retire without saying goodbye on the cricket ground." "We have a lot of talented young batsmen coming and they should be given enough opportunities to make the grade in Test cricket. There are two Test series coming up one in the UAE against Pakistan and one in Bangladesh and it is easy for a young batsman to get adjusted to the wickets there before he goes to England next summer. It is with that intention that I stepped down so that whoever takes my place in the Test team has time to adjust and gain the experience.
"I could have easily played Test cricket for another 2-3 years in all three formats but if all three senior batsmen - Sangakkara, Mahela and me - go out together it would create a big vacuum to fill in the openers and in the middle order batting. That is why I decided to quit from Test cricket early so that another youngster could be groomed in my place and benefit from the experience of playing with Mahela and Sanga."
Dilshan singled out Kaushal Silva and Kusal Perera as his possible replacements Test side.
"There are about 2-3 youngsters who can fill my shoes, like Kaushal Silva and Kusal Perera. In my opinion, Kusal has a long future ahead of him. I have confidence that he will become a successful opening batsman in the future. If you give him opportunities to play 3-day and 4-day cricket he will get the experience to play Test cricket."
For Dilshan the most memorable moment of his Test career was being awarded his Test cap against Zimbabwe at Bulawayo in 1999.
"Tears came to my eyes on that day. To win a Test cap at that time was a great honour because there were a lot of top-class cricketers playing like Arjuna Ranatunga, Aravinda de Silva, Roshan Mahanama, Sanath Jayasuriya, Hashan Tillakaratne and Marvan Atapattu," he said. "They were cricketers who had contributed a lot towards Sri Lanka cricket so to win a Test cap while they were still around was a proud moment for me. That moment is still fresh in my mind. It is a moment to cherish in a cricketer's life."
Dilshan will continue to play limited-overs cricket for Sri Lanka, and hopes to stay with the team until the 2015 World Cup. "We have two World Cups coming up quickly - the World T20 in about four months and the 2015 World Cup in another one and a half years. My presence in the team is more important for these two one-day tournaments. That is why I took the decision to remain in the game and play in these two formats."