`The way I planned my innings was sensational'

AP

Mahela Jayawardene, the man who NARROWLY MISSED Brian Lara's world record in the first Test against South Africa, speaks to REX CLEMENTINE about the innings of 374 and about his unwillingness to be captain once Marvan Atapattu recovers from injury.

Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene came very close to breaking the world record for the highest individual score in Test cricket, held by West Indian legend Brian Lara, in the first Test against South Africa at the SSC. He scored 374 in a chanceless innings, which ended when Andre Nel produced a delivery that kept a bit low and jagged back in. Jayawardene was bowled, and the hearts of many Sri Lankans who had thronged to Colombo-7 to see history being made were broken.

There were, however, many other records as Jayawardene together with vice-captain Kumar Sangakkara established a new record for the highest partnership in Test and first-class cricket for any wicket. The two Sri Lankans became the first pair in history to be involved in a partnership in excess of 600 runs.

In an exclusive interview with Sportstar, Jayawardene speaks on a host of issues ranging from missing the world record, handling criticism and captaincy. Excerpts:

Question: You came so close to beating Brian Lara's World Record for the highest individual score in Tests. How disappointed were you when you started that long walk back to the pavilion?

Answer: I was disappointed because my target was Lara's record. I knew there was plenty of time and I wasn't going to make any mistakes. It was a very good ball that got me and that was something out of my control and any batsman would have got out to that delivery. I would have been really upset if I had played a bad shot or thrown it away. That would have disappointed me a lot more.

What was the reaction from your family and friends?

There were a lot of people who called and wished me. They were really happy because so many records were broken on those two days. That's when you realise the significance of your effort. Even though I missed Lara's record, I am not hugely disappointed as it had been a very good effort. I enjoyed the quality of the knock. The way I planned my innings was sensational. I batted for 12-1/2 hours, which is not the easiest thing to do in that heat.

You said 12-1/2 hours of batting. That speaks of your fitness levels as well, doesn't it?

The whole team works hard on fitness these days. We play quite a lot of cricket. You will have niggles here and there but if your fitness levels are high you can definitely survive and that effort showed that I am in pretty good condition.

You missed Lara's record but you broke the record for the best partnership in Tests or first-class cricket and your partner was Kumar Sangakkara. You must be thrilled that you did it with your best mate?

Absolutely. It was good to set the record with Kumar. We thoroughly enjoyed it and I was very pleased to do it with him and it's the same with him. We complement each other and know each other's game. When you are making mistakes, it's good to have someone who knows your game at the other end.

When did you realise that you were going to break the record for the best partnership in Test cricket?

We realised it on the morning of the third day. That's the moment we felt we were nearing a big milestone. Then we came for lunch after seeing off the session and we were just eight runs short. It's not that we go for records but we realised that these records don't come that often. We never deviated from the actual match situation while going for these records. The important thing was to win the match and we always had that in mind.

Some of the shots that you played that day were truly amazing. Particularly the reverse sweep and the inside out shot off Nicky Boje, which gave you a lot of runs. But wasn't it for playing these same shots and getting out that you were criticised a few months back?

I think people have got to realise that it just takes one mistake for you to get out. Without me trying those shots I wouldn't have got to where I did. You got to have the courage to play those shots. I know I have been criticised for trying some of those shots and getting out, especially the reverse sweep. You can do it over and over again in practice, but the challenge is to go out there in the middle and do it. If you are not trying those shots in the middle you are not going to get anywhere. You've got to pick the right time and the right field for those shots. That's when you create different challenges for the bowler and the opposition captain and that's how you release the pressure.

Do you tell yourself in the middle that the right time has come to play a particular shot?

Well, I only played that shot (the reverse sweep) the other day after I got to 170 or something. They had set a field to dry up the boundaries and from the rough I didn't have much choice. Once I started playing that shot, they had to make a change in the field and from thereon I had several options. If you are good with your shots, there's no harm in trying something new. You've just got to remain positive. You've got to improve every day as a cricketer and the best place to do that is in practice. Once you are capable of pulling off a new shot in practice, you've got to take it to the match. That will make the opposition think differently.

How about criticism? You've had quite a few in the last few months.

That's the funny thing about this game. There is a lot of difference between the way I was treated six months ago and the way I am treated now. It was a big thing for me to learn about the behaviour of people. I keep learning everyday. The main thing is to remain focussed and keep it simple.

Did you ever think that some of those criticisms were unfair?

I do listen to criticism as long as it is constructive and there are good things that I have picked up from listening to it. The problem, though, is that I was being criticised even when my average was about 47 or 48. People were expecting me to do much better.

You also recorded the highest individual Test score by a Sri Lankan during that innings when you scored 341 surpassing Sanath Jayasuriya. That must have been a great feeling?

I am happy that I broke Sanath's record. He's been a great servant of Sri Lankan cricket and will be one in the future. I am proud to break his record and I am sure there will be someone else who'll come along and take the record away from me. Sanath was happy for me as well. I am happy to hold on to the record at least for a couple of more weeks. You never know, in the next game someone might take the record away from me.

Aravinda de Silva has been considered the best batsman produced by the country. What did you feel when he came out and said a couple of months back that that you are more talented than him?

I laughed when I read that piece. I told him when I met him in England that he must be crazy to say something like that. He was extraordinary. That may have been his opinion and I am very delighted that he praises me like that. You'll never be another Aravinda de Silva. I am trying to be as good as I can. Every player has something unique to offer the game.

You've made an immediate impact with captaincy since you took over. How do you see it?

I am still the acting captain. I am glad that I can contribute to the team's success in that role. I have told everybody, including the selectors, that if Marvan is fit to play he should take over the captaincy. This is his time and he has done a great job for us. The reason he is out of the team was not because of his form or captaincy. It was purely due to injury and if he comes back he should continue and I have conveyed that to the selectors.

A lot of great players lose form when the leadership role is given to them. But with you it seems the other way around?

I was told that the vice-captaincy was a burden for me sometime ago and there was a lot said about this. The vice-captaincy was not much of a responsibility; it was just about things like motivating the guys and working with the captain. Maybe, it all had to do with the expectations people had in me. I have matured as a batsman now and learned not to repeat the same mistake. I am not too sure whether this has come about due to the extra responsibility.