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Mahela Jayawardene talks to ESPNcricinfo about the impact of fewer Tests on Sri Lanka's cricket, the cricketing transition facing the national side and his plans to continue until the 2015 World Cup
December 29, 2013
You played your last Test in January 2013 against Australia. How do you motivate yourself between games?
We had two Tests against Bangladesh which I couldn't play because of an injury. It's unfortunate that we haven't had much Test cricket but once we start, we'll probably have quite a few in the next 15-18 months. The main thing is to get focused and control what we can, rather than mull about things we can't.
Your last first-class match was in October. Can you say that you are prepared to go into a Test series without any first-class games under your belt?
The preparations probably are not ideal but we played one-day cricket. It's about playing matches, playing competitive cricket any time of the day in that manner, we need to get our mindsets right, and get our game plan sorted out for Test cricket, it's as simple as that. Some of the one-day boys have three days before the first Test, they just need to completely change their attitude towards Test cricket immediately.
In your case, is it harder because you missed the T20 and 50-over series?
I've been practising and playing some matches but it's quite different. That's when experience comes in, I try and go back and see what I need to do with Test cricket and have a focused game plan.
After your 275 against India in 2009, you have played 30 Tests but scored only four Test hundreds. Do you think it's a drop in consistency?
When it comes to big scores, yes. Runs wise, I've scored in New Zealand. I had a couple of nineties that I should have converted into hundreds, a lot of 70s and 60s, but in Test matches I have been somewhat in-between. I just need to get my mindset right to play. I am not 100% happy with the way I have performed, maybe in the last 20-25 Test matches, the big hundreds haven't come. The runs are there but standards are much higher than that.
Have you looked back and found out why?
Not really. At times I've been a bit out of form and at times made a few mistakes here and there. There is no one scenario that's been bothering me. Just trying to get things right and play longer innings.
The benchmark set for a top-class Test batsman is a career average of above 50. You had maintained that throughout your career, until recently when your Test batting average dropped below that mark. How do you explain that?
If you want to have a gauge that would be it, but I am not a big player on numbers and stuff like that. I take one game at a time and see how I can contribute. The numbers are there to say whether you have had a decent career or not. I could be satisfied with what I have achieved so far, I wouldn't do anything differently. I've played the way I wanted to play and my goal is to make sure I push myself in the next 18 months or so in international cricket and achieve whatever I want to achieve. Whether it is targets, or whatever, I'll set myself that and try and push myself. I am not really worried about those kinds of numbers.
Are you worried about not having played enough Tests over the last few years?
We haven't consistently played. I remember when I came into the side, and until two-three years later, we were playing at least 10-12 Tests a year. That's why I've played so many Tests in my career until now. But, unfortunately, the younger guys haven't had that opportunity, so on a development scale, we need to look at seriously playing a minimum 8-10 Test matches a year.
How big a setback will it [lack of Test cricket] be for the younger cricketers?
Ideally you want the younger guys to play a lot of Test cricket and get used to that atmosphere and challenge themselves. Then we can identify the really good players. What can we do if we don't have the Test cricket we should have?
What are the challenges that you are looking at in the upcoming Test series against Pakistan?
It's always a challenge to play Pakistan who have naturally gifted players. It's always going to be a scrappy affair. You just need to ensure we win those little battles. They've got some decent Test bowlers and a good enough batting line up as well. We need to be up challenging them, fighting and winning those battles.
With Tillakaratne Dilshan having retired from Test cricket, will there be added pressure on you and Kumar Sangakkara to deliver?
That pressure has always been there. There cannot be any added pressures. We are just going to go out and enjoy ourselves and see what we can control.
How do you see Sri Lanka cricket in the next 10 years or so?
The cricketers we have are really good but we need to improve our domestic structure. The way we play our first-class cricket, we need to push these younger guys to a level so that it is easier for them to play international cricket. I don't think we are still getting those standards in domestic cricket. The cricket we are playing is quantity not quality. We just need to build it up to that level and be more competitive. Play four-day cricket even at under-19 level so that the batsmen and bowlers find the art of playing good, hard cricket.
Who are the players you can single out to carry Sri Lanka into the next decade?
It's tough to say. We've got a lot of youngsters, like Angie (Angelo Mathews), Chandi (Dinesh Chandimal), Thiri (Lahiru Thirimanne), and it is up to them. Those guys are responsible for carrying Sri Lanka forward in the next 10 years. Everyone's invested heavily in those guys for the future and the younger crop is not too bad, the Under-19 boys who are coming through. You can identify a few more tough nuts and try and get them ready for international cricket.
What have been your strengths and weaknesses in your cricket?
They are the same. My strength is the way I bat. I was brought up playing like that, I've adjusted a little bit according to Test cricket, one-day cricket and T20. I've pushed myself and the weaknesses are probably the same because I am an aggressive kind of player. In that scenario I tend to make a few mistakes and play shots. I love playing shots, sometimes I do make a few mistakes but that is part of the game. Because of that I've scored so many runs in my career (over 10,000 runs each in Tests and ODIs). One-day cricket for me is about winning the match, it's about contributing to the situation and while doing that, if I throw my wicket away, that's not a big concern for me because that's the way I play the game to win.
At 36, how does your body feel coping with the rigours of international cricket?
You have to realise that you are getting older and the body is not the same as you were at 20 or 25. But I've kept myself fit. Like I always said, if I can't compete at this level the way I wanted I would leave. I am still enjoying it doing what I can, but I am sure my body will tell me exactly when to shut down.
You still believe you have some fuel left in the tank?
Yeah, I do I still have the hunger but I have to be smart in managing myself in the next 12 months or so and make sure I am fit for the World Cup, and maybe a little bit of Test cricket, if my form and performance allows.
Becoming a father does that change your responsibilities towards cricket?
Not really. I always kept my family and cricket life separate. Responsibility to both is pretty much the same, there are no highs and lows. I've always committed myself in both directions in the right manner, I'll try and keep it the same way. It's a new page in my life with the little one but I will keep focus on both sides at the same time and see how I can balance that.
What does winning the ICC Spirit of Cricket award mean to you?
It's an honour. It's your players who have acknowledged what you have done. I've always felt that you try and play hard but in the right way. I felt that's the right way, so I am quite happy that it got acknowledged. It is something that I will cherish because it's your peers who are giving you that award; it makes a huge difference.
How does the spirit of cricket apply to the present generation of cricketers? Have standards improved from what they were?
They have, because you feel embarrassed these days with all the technology but it is still a different ball game of how people look at things. You can't force anyone do to anything. It's up to the individual to say 'I want to play hard', but at the same time in the right way. I am quite happy with what I've done out in the middle.
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