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Aravinda de Silva admits he'd given up hope of playing again

He looked set to slip quietly into retirement; an unsatisfactory end for such a great cricketer. But after more than a year on the sidelines, Aravinda de Silva, Sri Lanka's highest run scorer in both forms of the game, returns to the international frame, and, perhaps appropriately, England is the location of probably his last hurrah.

For some the return of the 36 year old may seem strange; after all, Sri Lanka have won their last nine Test matches without him. But winning at home is far removed from success abroad. The selectors know that playing in England during early summer will be an entirely different challenge and De Silva's experience, gleaned from numerous tours and two seasons with Kent, makes him potentially invaluable.

In January he was pulled to one side by Michael Tissera, a former Sri Lanka captain and newly appointed chairman of selectors. It was the first communication between a selector and De Silva for nearly nine months. Tissera offered him hope of an international recall, but he had to shed weight, return to domestic cricket and prove his fitness.

"When the selectors approached me I hadn't been playing cricket for close to a year," says De Silva. "It's no surprise that when you are out of the game for that long you put up weight and become a little rusty. The selection committee met me and gave me a time frame."

Like many greats, De Silva has never shown a great appetite for the gym and treadmill, but before long the rumours were floating through Colombo's cricketing grapevine. "De Silva's serious about getting fit, we've seen him training like never before," said idle men talking at club bars. De Silva is almost smug when he announces: "During the past three months I've shed 11 kilos."

Needless to say he was delighted when he was finally selected: "I'm really happy to be in the side for the English tour and very much looking forward for the challenge. I love touring England. It's my second home."

The 89-match veteran claims to be as enthusiastic as when he stepped into the side at Lords exactly 18 long years ago: "There's no pressure on me at all, I'm playing international cricket after an absence of one year and I just want to go there and give a shot. I like to think this as my first tour. I started off in England in way back in 1984, I enjoyed that tour very much and want to go and enjoy this outing as well."

De Silva had all but given up hope of playing for Sri Lanka again: "To be honest with you I basically had given up everything at the start of this year. The selectors didn't speak to me and wouldn't tell me why I was left out after England's last tour when I had scored a hundred in Galle and was second in the averages."

He's under no illusions as to the enormity of the task ahead for Sri Lanka, but he believes the tourists can win: "I think we can beat them if we play to our full potential, but it'll be tough. We've got to play extremely well. Last time when we played there the conditions suited our type of cricket, but this time the wickets will be fresh and the weather will help the ball move around, making batting very difficult. But on the other side of the coin, our seam bowlers will love bowling there."

He's also got tremendous amount of respect for the English side: "They have improved in the last couple of years. Now most of those players are experienced. Graham Thorpe will be the man to look for. They've got a decent batting line up, despite the retirement of Atherton, and also a decent seam bowling attack.

He's looking forward to reliving fond memories: "The season I spent with Kent in 1995 was really special for me. I've also had many memorable knocks there, including a century against Wasim Akram's Lancashire in the Benson and Hedges final at Lords plus the 150 that helped us to beat England at the Oval four years ago."

He's giving few clues as to his plans after the tour, although one suspects he would grab at a chance to leave the game on a high: "I haven't still decided although a lot of people are asking me that question. It all depends on how I feel and what I want to do. So I'll just wait and see."