`I enjoyed my cricket'

AS a stylish top and middle-order batsman for Sri Lanka, Asanka Gurusinha took on the best in the business in the '80s and the '90s, looking a challenge in the eye, seldom flinching, conjuring knocks of substance and brilliance in both forms of the game.

S. DINAKAR

AS a stylish top and middle-order batsman for Sri Lanka, Asanka Gurusinha took on the best in the business in the '80s and the '90s, looking a challenge in the eye, seldom flinching, conjuring knocks of substance and brilliance in both forms of the game.

Former Sri Lankan cricketer Asanka Gurusinha was brilliant in both forms of the game. — Pic: K. PICHUMANI-

Well-organised at the crease, the left-handed Gurusinha was an integral part of the '96 World Cup winning Sri Lankan side. He was in Chennai on a brief halt en-route to Mumbai to participate in a charity match for singing legend Lata Mangeshkar's cancer hospital when The Sportstar caught up with him.

Question: How is life after cricket, Asanka? You now reside in Australia.

Answer: I left Sri Lanka in '96 and settled down in Melbourne. I have two children, my son is 14, he is playing cricket there. My daughter is 10 and she plays netball. My wife is working, I am as well. I have joined News Limited in Australia. It's got a lot of newspapers, I am doing most of the advertising work. I did play grade cricket till last year. Then, I completely gave up the game. I did not have the motivation to go on. Nothing to achieve.

Any particular moment that you recall in your career? You were a key member of the side when Sri Lanka made the remarkable transition into a World-beating unit.

What I would remember the most is the World Cup that we won in '96. That would always be in my mind. That was the highlight.

There were rumours that differences with some of the senior cricketers such as skipper Arjuna Ranatunga prompted you to leave the international scene early.

Actually, I wasn't enjoying the game, and I thought that's the time to get out. There was no fighting or anything, it was just opinion. Arjuna (Ranatunga) was the captain then and we didn't agree on a few things. But that's really not the reason I quit. I just didn't enjoy the game. You can see now that Arjuna and myself are still very good friends. There's no anger. I respect his opinion, and he respects my opinion.

Though the Lankan side made the semifinal of the 2003 World Cup, it did not inspire confidence. There was a certain lack of cohesion in the team.

We didn't pick the side according to our strengths. We selected too many pace bowlers. That is not our strength. We have Chaminda Vaas, but we don't have any other bowler at that level. The spinners, who can check the batsmen, are our strength. We should have picked Kumara Dharmasena and Upul Chandana, both of whom have all-round ability. Especially, Kumara I think should have been there. We cannot do something different just because we are in South Africa.

With the exception of Marvan Atapattu, the Lankan batting too was inconsistent.

That's right. The batting didn't click. Our middle-order did not get runs. We played eight batsmen in the semifinal against Australia. I don't think eight batsmen can win a game. The person coming in at No. 8, I don't think he can ever make a difference. From the time I saw the team, I knew it would not work.

The Indians missed a big opportunity too, didn't they? Do you believe they should have batted first?

It was an opportunity missed by India. You only get this chance once in four years, making the final. It is very difficult for us to talk about India's decision to field. I know a lot of people are saying India should have batted first. But you have to give credit to the Australians. Their attack is their strength. They can bowl sides out. I don't think the Indian pacemen used the early conditions. They bowled short and sent down too many wides and no-balls. Had India put up a good score, Australia would have been under pressure. However, had India got out for around 150, it would have been a no-contest. Ganguly would have struggled with that decision, but in the end, the team might have decided to field. It is great for cricket in the sub-continent that one of the teams entered the final. From '92, in every final there has been a sub-continental side.

What is the key to the super-success of the Australian side?

It is due to the confidence in the side. They believe in themselves, perform to the best of their ability. When they are on top, they don't allow the other side to come back.

There has always been a fair bit of needle in the contest when the Aussies take on the Lankans.

The Australians play very hard, at any level of cricket. For the Aussies, to beat the Sri Lankans means a lot. I could see this on their faces after defeating us in the semifinals. They cannot remove from their minds the fact that they lost to us in the '96 World Cup final.

You came up with several high quality innings for Sri Lanka. Some of the efforts, you would like to remember?

I would always go for my first Test hundred, as a 19-year-old. It was against Pakistan in Colombo. That was a very good Pakistan attack of Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Abdul Qadir and Tauseef Ahmed. That century is one of the memories that I will always carry with me. Then the century against the Aussies in Australia in the mid-90s. The conditions were tough. We lost some quick wickets and I told myself `I am going to play my shots.' That Australian attack contained McDermott, McGrath, Reiffel and Warne. I hooked, cut, pulled and drove. I enjoyed that innings. There was a bit of bounce and I liked the ball coming on to the bat.

Apart from the ODI triumphs, the period between 1994 and '96 witnessed Sri Lanka making significant headway as a Test playing nation as well.

Yes, winning our first Test outside Sri Lanka was a great feeling. It happened in New Zealand, on a green-top in Napier. Chaminda Vaas made a half-century and took 10 wickets in that Test.

Soon Sri Lanka conquered Pakistan in Pakistan, in both Test and the ODI series.

That year we beat Pakistan in Pakistan, we defeated West Indies in the Sharjah final, then won the World Cup. It was an unforgettable time for us. Pakistan was a tough tour. We lost the first Test in three days. We decided to fight back and went on to win the next two Tests. I did my job. I got a couple of 50s in the Test series. We took the field in the mood to win. Previously, we had got into winning positions a lot of times but then lost. This time we knew how to go about it. In the one-dayers too, we lost the first match then bounced back to win the series.

Before the World Cup '96 arrived the traumatic tour of Australia that appeared to have strengthened Sri Lanka's resolve.

When we went to Australia, the Aussies said, `hang on, this is a good side that has come here now.' We had a lot of problems. Muralitharan was called for chucking, which made all of us angry. This also made us more determined.

Then two sides met again, in the World Cup final in Lahore.

We were in the final and we said, we are not going to `fight' with the Aussies, we are going to play according to our strengths. We will try and perform the way we can and not take out our anger on the field. This paid for us.

The finest bowlers, you have faced in pace and spin?

In pace, definitely Wasim Akram. I don't think I have faced a better fast bowler. He is so versatile. In spin, it is more difficult to pick one. I had quite a lot of problems with leggie Abdul Qadir.

How would you compare Shane Warne and Abdul Qadir?

I never got out to Warne in my Test career. I got two Test hundreds against Australia. And Warnie has never got me out in any kind of cricket. He never ever troubled me as such. Abdul turned the ball a hell of a lot. Warnie is someone who will always bowl at you. You have to keep him out. Abdul will bowl a bit of loose stuff, but he had a very good wrong 'un, which is a big threat to a left-handed batsman. Warnie doesn't have a good googly, but Abdul bowled a very, very good googly.

What was your strength as a batsman?

My strength was playing through the line. I was good at driving straight. Hitting the fast bowlers through the line. I was a good puller as well.

You were a part of a rather formidable Sri Lankan batting line-up.

Aravinda (De Silva), Arjuna (Ranatunga), and Roshan (Mahanama) were all good stroke-makers. I will bat on till the end, they will play their strokes and we would get to a big score. That's what happened in the World Cup.

The success of paceman Chaminda Vaas, someone you have played so much cricket with, must be heartening to you. What makes the enduring Vaas tick?

He is a wonderful bowler and a great friend of mine. He listens to people. He works very hard. I am very, very happy at the way he is going. He swings the ball and he has so much control. The first ball of the day, he will bowl right on the stumps, which is very difficult for a paceman. His strength is control.

And Muttiah Muralitharan, again a cricketer with whom you have shared a lot of moments.

Murali is the greatest off-spinner. I met him here after quite a while and talked to him about the fantastic straighter one that he bowls. A lot of batsmen are struggling to pick that up.

Any regrets in your career?

Sometimes, I played a few risky shots and got out. I feel I could have done a little better. The 40s and 80s, I could have converted into 50s and 100s. But I think I enjoyed my career, enjoyed playing for Sri Lanka. There are no regrets.