It has never been an easy ride for any team in India. In the 1997 Test series in India, we drew all three. At the time we were at our peak but India managed to hold us. It has always been tough to play in India because the conditions are different and their players know how to play in their own conditions. Therefore for any team to go and succeed in India is very hard. At home, we are a powerful side, like India.
We had a good chance to win the first Test, but the wicket was so flat that scoring was made easy. We couldn't take 10 wickets in the last one-and-a-half days of play and that affected us.
This is a transitional period. After 2003 World Cup, we had senior and capable players who stayed till the 2007 World Cup. Now the transitional period has come. I am not young, neither is Sanath [Jayasuriya]. [Chaminda] Vaasy is gone.
"We are not going to be a brilliant fielding side by 2011. If someone is saying we will be, they are not being honest to themselves. Today you cannot find a brilliant fielder who is a brilliant batsman or bowler. It will take generations to find one"
In 2005, when we went to India under Marvan [Atapattu]'s captaincy, we got thrashed 2-0 in the Tests and 6-1 in the ODIs. We went to Australia and New Zealand and we didn't do well. We started performing well in the VB Series, and in 2007 we built a strong team. The same thing can happen again if everyone is patient. If you try to make drastic changes to the team it won't happen.
In the 2007 World Cup team we had good fielders like Upul Tharanga, Sanath, Mahela, Sanga as wicketkeeper, Chamara Silva and Russel Arnold. In the bowling department me, Vaasy and [Lasith] Malinga were safe fielders. We had a good fielding unit. Now if you take the team, it is the other way around. Thilan and [Thilina] Kandamby are safe fielders but not brilliant. But they are very good batsmen and you can't keep them out because of the fielding. Likewise, a few bowlers are not natural athletes. That's what's happened to our fielding. They train, but speed is something you cannot create. You have to be born with it. We are not going to be a brilliant fielding side by 2011. If someone is saying we will be, they are not being honest to themselves. Today you cannot find a brilliant fielder who is a brilliant batsman or bowler. It will take generations to find one.
Unreasonable criticism has been made of his captaincy. Fair criticism is accepted. When Mahela captained against India and Pakistan and we lost and he was not scoring runs, the media put too much pressure on him. He was a wonderful captain for the two years he led the country. At the end of the day what happened? He said thank you and quit the captaincy. Luckily we had Sangakkara. Now the same criticism has started against him, saying his decisions are not good. That's very unfair. As soon as he took over, he led a young side to the final of the World Twenty20, won the one-day series in Pakistan, the Idea Cup final, won the Test series against Pakistan and New Zealand, and then we lost to India. It is too early for anyone to start criticising his captaincy. He is a capable person but is now being put under pressure. Once you put a lot of pressure on someone, however strong he may be, he will start thinking, "Why should I take all this criticism? I can be in the team as a player." If Sanga goes, who is going to captain? At the end of the day, players need to perform. The captain alone can't win a match.
I took the job because at the time there wasn't anybody to do it. Nobody was certain of a place, so I agreed to take it. If somebody is there to take over the vice-captaincy, I am glad to hand it over to him. I just want to be a player, support the team and win. Even before the 2011 World Cup, if there is someone better than me, I don't mind giving my place to him. I enjoy cricket as a player. Vice-captaincy is not something that I have given much thought to.
ODI cricket has changed a lot because of the Powerplay. Our bowlers have not adjusted to it properly. They have to work out how to contain, especially in the Powerplay. Because the wickets are so good in India, the bowlers suffered more than in any other part of the world. Teams keep the batting Powerplay till the end to maximise it and sometimes it backfires.
We have a very good chance. We have to get into the quarter-finals. The best way of qualifying is to not clash with India. Then all the quarters and semis will be played in Sri Lanka. The only thing is the officials have to prepare wickets that are drier and suitable for spin and batting.
You can't judge a bowler in one or two years. You have to give him a span of four to five years and allow him to mature. Nobody picked Ajantha at the beginning and he bamboozled everyone. He came into the limelight very early.
"Whenever Mendis comes to bowl, they expect him to take wickets. It is affecting him. You have to treat him as a normal bowler, one who takes wickets on and off. On his day, he will take big wickets"
My plan is to play the two Tests against West Indies [at home] and finish with 800 wickets. I want to play ODIs till the 2011 World Cup, but I must see how things go, how important I am going to be to the team. I don't want to be selfish. If they think I can still deliver, I will play. Otherwise I am happy to quit because I have plenty of offers to play from counties and from Chennai. I must see how my body can take it. My body cannot afford Test cricket anymore because I have bowled thousands of overs and I can feel it. I just can't force myself to play. Twenty20 is four overs and I am not playing for my country. In one-day cricket you bowl only 10 overs, so I can manage.
I think I've had a pretty good career. I have both bowling records in Test and ODIs. I have taken 66 five-fors and 45 four-fors, which means out of 132 Tests I have failed only in a handful - maybe 3% to 5%. In one-day cricket I have taken 512 wickets in 334 matches, average 22 and an economy rate of 3.9.