Jayawardene: a force behind Lankan revival

Published: Thursday, October 5, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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Colombo: A year ago, Sri Lankan cricket was in crisis with their young players hampered by fragile confidence, dressing room disunity, selection squabbles and political problems within the national board.

However, their fortunes have been revived under new captain Mahela Jayawardene, who has led from the front in recent months with a glut of runs and moulded the team into a united force.

Since taking over from the injured Marvan Atapattu in February, he has averaged 62.93 in Test cricket from nine matches and 54 in one-day internationals (ODI), which contrasts with his career average of 32.33.

His prolific form included back-to-back ODI hundreds against England after he was elevated to number three in the order as his side went on to thrash the hosts 5-0.''Batting at number three has given me a lot of freedom,'' Jayawardene told reporters earlier this week.

Regarded as a special talent since he made his international debut almost a decade ago, he struggled for consistency until the retirement of batting mainstay Aravinda de Silva in 2003.''Our team requirements were different before,'' he said.

''I was required to bat in the middle order at four, five or six. But now I can play my natural game and look to exploit the power plays for the team.''I know what my role is within the batting line-up and I am comfortable with the extra responsibility on my shoulders.''

Dynamic Role: The 29-year-old has encouraged his players to back their natural instincts and play an aggressive and dynamic brand of cricket.

This fresh approach first became evident during the series against England as Sri Lanka launched blistering early batting assaults to make maximum use of fielding restrictions.

Jayawardene proved a shrewd tactician too, his innovative thinking drawing comparisons with Arjuna Ranatunga, who was regarded as Sri Lanka's finest captain in leading them to a surprise World Cup victory in 1996.''I have just followed my instincts as captain and tried to be positive as much as possible,'' Jayawardene told reporters.

''At the end of the day though, your success as a captain depends on the players around you and the fact is I have been very lucky to work alongside a great bunch of players and a top management team.'' His handling of the younger players has been skilful with the creation of what he calls ''a comfortable, fun and focused dressing room'', an atmosphere that has been conducive to personal development.

''I fundamentally believe you have to enjoy your cricket to bring out the best in your ability,'' he added.

''During the England tour, we encouraged the younger players to express themselves and placed extra responsibility on the senior players. The result was a healthy atmosphere and a closely knit team.'' He is determined the team's rise continues in the Champions Trophy.

''We've had some success but that is all history now,'' he said.''We must continue to learn and grow during the coming weeks.''

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