Island Cricket

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

[Video] Sri Lanka's captain fantastic | BBC

BBC Sport: Sri Lanka have had their fair share of strong men as skippers, domineering characters with presences as large as their waistlines.

Arjuna Ranatunga The wall

Current incumbent Mahela Jayawardene is another man of considerable stature - but this has little to do with his physique or an attitude. One of the game's more thoughtful and softly-spoken protagonists, the 30-year-old has earned rave reviews since taking over following Marvan Atapattu's back injury in March 2006.

A brilliant batsman with natural attacking flair, his positive leadership has helped the team win nine of their 16 Tests under him. Only Arjuna Ranatunga and Sanath Jayasuriya have overseen more Test victories for the islanders, while Jayawardene's success rate in the 56 one-day internationals he has led in is a very healthy 62.5%.

Jayawardene guided the team to a place in the World Cup final in April and, such are the strides made by them in his tenure, Sri Lanka go into the forthcoming Test series against England as favourites.

"Mahela is held up there by Sri Lankans alongside people like Duleep Mendis, Ranatunga and Sanath," former Sri Lanka batsman Russel Arnold told BBC Sport. "He was always known as a talented batsman, but as a captain and how he carries himself around, he's gained a lot of respect." Before he took charge Jayawardene - who will spend next summer playing county had already established himself as a world-class performer thanks to a finely-honed technique.

The right-hander, who made his Test debut in August 1997 against India, has garnered 6,797 runs in 90 Tests at an average of just under 50. But more than a fifth of that total has come in 16 games as skipper, at a stunning average of 57.34. Rather than using his success and position of power to dictate, Jayawardene prefers to delegate responsibility, and is keen on running a democratic ship, a policy he helped implement with former Sri Lanka coach Tom Moody.

"The team plan is made and then everyone fits in and it's not made around him," explained Arnold, who retired after the World Cup. "He's an outgoing guy, has a good cricketing brain and respects people a lot. So in return he is respected. "It's difficult to compare with Sanath and Marvan, they were all different characters, but Mahela's focus on the team has been even greater.

Mahela addressing the media

"Mahela is the type of person who would get on with anybody." That is not to say the Colombo-born star is soft. Far from it - bowlers who stray and fielders who slip up are given admonishing looks. And in his news conferences even banal questions are countered with a smile which precedes a pointed response.

"Mahela's mind is always ticking. He comes up with a thought, sticks to it and no-one can influence it, but generally it's a team-first attitude," Arnold said. "With that type of attitude it's easy for anyone to work with him. "Responsibilities are given to the players but if someone needs to be told and reminded he doesn't take a backward step there - even with more experienced players."

Jayawardene's appointment has come during a transitional stage in Sri Lankan cricket, with the selectors preparing for life without stalwarts like opener Jayasuriya, seamer Chaminda Vaas and star spinner Muttiah Muralitharan. That trio are likely to be around for a while yet, but Jayawardene - who often talks about the "legacy" created by the 1996 World Cup triumph - is keen to look ahead to the next era and leave the national team in capable hands. However, that will not come at the expense of achieving success now. "He and the selectors are aware that people like Sanath, Vaas and Murali being around at this point is a bonus," Arnold added. "So teams are being picked with the idea of one or two places going to people who they are looking at for the future, trying to give experience to people like Kauhsal Lokuruachchi and Dilruwan Perera. "But that doesn't mean they are looking to compromise on results.

The one-day results against England [a 3-2 series loss in October] were hurtful and he will have taken that personally." That really did hurt because they let themselves down. Other than in the first game, England were never really stretched. "The fact is they have done a lot of hard work over the last few years and got good results. "When it comes to the Tests against England they will be expected to win and I'm pretty sure they will put everything right."


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