Kumar Sangakkara holds the destiny of his country's cricket in his hands as he takes on his first assignment as captain in an official capacity. He also talks of his experience in the IPL, playing under Mahela Jayawardene and what Twenty20 cricket teaches you as a batsman
What are your views on the three formats of the game?
I think Test cricket will always remain No.1. There is no better testing ground for any player other than on a Test field. Every other format should support and enrich Test cricket. When you play Test cricket you are playing for a place in history and you're testing yourself in every single department of your game against the opposition. There is no better challenge than that.
Would you have preferred making your debut as captain in a Test match rather than a World Twenty20 tournament?
You really can't pick and choose can you? It's going to be a difficult challenge going into a World Cup as your first tour but you've got to learn the hard way. Just try and be sure that you are prepared as a side and as an individual to take up whatever comes your way. We've got a very well-balanced side, a great bowling attack and we just got to make sure the batting supports that.
What has Twenty20 cricket taught you?
Twenty20 cricket has opened the batsman's eyes as to what you can really do. It's put an end to the limitations being imposed upon ourselves, the cricketing community at large, the coaches and everyone. Those limitations have all disappeared. New shots, new innovations and run-scoring rates have all improved. You see a lot of batsmen coming down the track now even in Test cricket to fast bowlers, scoring at four plus runs an over, taking on spinners much more than they used to earlier. It's really enriched Test cricket. As long as players realise the importance of all formats of cricket and prioritise them rightly and the home boards and the ICC also make sure each country plays at least 10-12 matches a year, that's the way forward.
Has T20 cricket thrown text book cricket out of the window?
No. The importance of technique is highlighted even more. You build everything from that technical base. Having a technical base should never really restrict you. Upto now before the advent of T20 and the modern pre-1996 one-day cricket format, the players used the technical base as a restriction. Now when you have the right technique you free your mind up. There's a lot more that you can do with it.
Having played two IPL tournaments, what are the positives you have taken out of them?
Exposure of playing in that pressure cooker environment. Being responsible largely for your own performance and not being able to be one of the back because you are picked as an individual to be part of the team and that individual status has a lot of value in an IPL format. Twenty20 no doubt is going to be an important factor in every country's cricketing make up very soon. Hopefully, inspired by the performances on the field, a generation of cricketers will take up the game and look at new avenues to represent their country. At the end of the day what IPL really teaches you is forget the money, forget the glitz and the glamour. The value of that whole tournament hinges on the amount of quality cricket that people see on the field. If not for quality cricket, people won't come.
Do you believe that having stars in the side doesn't make you a world beating side in T20 cricket as was proved in the recent IPL tournament?
I am a great believer that respect and stardom should be earned on performance rather than just personality. At the end of the day it doesn't matter what name you have; it's a dual between a ball and a bat. You are measured up in history at the end of the day on statistics.
Is the Sri Lanka captaincy something that you looked forward to when you started your career?
Not really. I was surprised when Mahela [Jayawardene] gave up his captaincy. I thought he was the ideal man to lead us into the 2011 World Cup. Young players who are in the Sri Lankan side look back and think that if we had a young player who had cemented himself in the national side over the last three years and really become a good performer, he would have got a great opportunity to become a leader. We have some of the most talented young cricketers in the world. You take Chamara Kapugedera for instance. In my view he has to take the responsibility of becoming a regular member of our side and being an integral part of our World Cup squad.
You have been Mahela's deputy for quite a long time. What have you learnt from him as a captain?
It's just the general calmness he has brought to the field. He was an attacking captain most of the time and also knew when to defend. His overall ability to calm the side down as well as inspire them when the time is right was his greatest attribute. As a captain, at the end of the day, no matter how much of information you have you make that decision and you have to stand by that and be accountable for it. Mahela did that with great ability and great character. That's what everyone learnt from him.
What would be your approach as captain?
I would like to keep things as simple as possible. I am a great believer in preparation, practice, performance and hopefully we can have an environment where each player is pushing each other to do better and not being satisfied just hanging in there and being part of the side or a squad but really being a contributing member. We have so much bench strength at the moment that when we have that environment of performance-based selection, you have a lot more people pushing for places and a lot more people under pressure to retain their places. Hopefully that will drive our performance.