Mahela Jayawardene has urged Sri Lanka's national selectors to let him open the innings in one-day cricket for the final phase of his international career. Speaking exclusively to ESPNcricinfo in Kolkata ahead of the fourth one-day international against India on Thursday, Jayawardene said he had been "pushing for the move since the 2011 World Cup."
"The only thing I haven't done is gone down on my knees to the selectors and asked for me to be allowed to open," Jayawardene joked. "I have felt that's the position I should bat leading up to this World Cup. The selectors obviously have a different theory. Because the middle order isn't experienced, they wanted me to be there. But every time I have opened the batting, I have played my best cricket, been consistent and controlled the game. So we'll see. We still have three to four months before the World Cup."
Over his 16-year international career, Jayawardene has opened in just 32 of his 426 ODIs despite posting some impressive numbers in that position. He averages 44.76 as an ODI opener with four centuries and seven fifties at a strike rate of 91.48.
"Every time an opener gets sick or has an injury, I am the first one to put my hand up and that's how I got my opportunities," he said. "In T20 cricket I've opened and that frees me up quite a bit and gives me that opportunity to start well and control the innings."
Jayawardene's plea for a promotion up the order is unlikely to be accepted immediately, especially after he made an attractive 118 in 124 balls in the third ODI at Hyderabad batting at No.4. Jayawardene came into bat with Sri Lanka placed precariously at 7 for 2, and guided the innings with a typically cultured knock that included 12 fours and a six.
"To bat in the middle makes a big difference, especially against a good quality attack. Personally, it's good to get back into that competitive mode and get my game plan sorted."
Despite Jayawardene's heroics, Sri Lanka lost the match by six wickets to give India an unassailable 3-0 lead in the series. Having suffered big defeats in the first two games as well, Jayawardene conceded that the series had been a "disappointing" outing.
"We've been very consistent home and away this year but unfortunately we didn't hit the stride as soon as we came here," he said. "But you always try to look at things in a positive way. We were able to try a few options before the World Cup and give a few guys opportunities and see if they are up for the big occasion. I think all in all even though it's a disappointing tour, we've learnt quite a bit."
Jayawardene is convinced that the setback in India will have no impact on the team's preparations for the World Cup. Sri Lanka has been consistent at world tournaments over the last decade or so having reached the last two World Cup finals and three World T20 finals, winning the last one in Bangladesh. He believes this success is down to the ability of Sri Lanka's players to "handle pressure really well."
Jayawardene is now looking ahead to his last World Cup campaign, in Australia and New Zealand next year, and is pleased with how Sri Lanka's schedule has been drawn up going into the tournament.
"We will be based in New Zealand and our preparation is going to be good. We have two Test matches and seven one-dayers against New Zealand before the World Cup," he said. "Adapting to surfaces in Australia and New Zealand is going to be quite different. One hurdle at a time, get through that and then from the quarterfinals, it's on the day, how you keep your head, keep calm and execute." Having already retired from Test cricket earlier this year, Jaywaredne will end his international career after the World Cup. As he leaves the stage, Jayawardene is convinced the future of Sri Lankan cricket is secure with Angelo Mathews at the helm of affairs as captain.
"He (Mathews) handles pressure really well as a batsman, and once you do that captaining the side becomes fairly natural as long as you are calm and collected," Jayawardene said. "He had a fantastic year with the bat last year and as a captain as well, winning in England for the first time. He's come a long way, we are happy that he's settled now and by the time we leave, the team is in good hands."
Gaurav Kalra is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo. @gauravkalra75