Sri Lanka’s versatile player in the team, Upul Tharanga, will walk into the middle for the first time as the regular skipper of the team against India, in the first ODI of the five match series to be played at Dambulla today, after several stand in appointments.
Whole of Sri Lanka will put their hopes on Tharanga to change the team’s losing fate when they walk into the limited over series after heavy defeats in the Test series. He also has an uphill task of improving Sri Lanka’s ICC ranking as the islanders are in now in eighth place. Ceylon Today caught up with Tharanga ahead of the series opener at Dambulla where he discussed about his unexpected captaincy after a 12 year international career, plans to improve the Sri Lanka team and leading islanders at the 2019
ICC World Cup.
? This is the maiden game as the regular skipper, any pressure ahead of it?
A: No pressure at all. I led the team since last year in a few series. So I know the team, players and what we need to do to win the match.
? Sri Lanka coming off from the 3-0 whitewash against India, how are you going to move from there?
A: Yes, we could not play to our potential in the Test series. Rather than lose, the manner in which we lost has some issues. We have to forget about it and think about the future. Anyway it’s two different formats and we are in a good mental state walking into the one dayers.
? Any different feeling walking into tomorrow‘s game compared to the rest of the tours you lead?
A: No, nothing different. Even though I was stand in captain it was I who called the shots and took decisions. Only difference is this time I have been given the role for a bit longer. And also we are low in the rankings. We all, players, support staff should get together and come up with that. Even hopes of our fans have gone down but I believe they will be right behind us in this series.
? Any word on the team you have got for one dayers?
A: It’s a good team. Lots of experience and talented youngsters. Unfortunately we had some injuries before the series. But I believe this team can turn things around for us. This is the opportunity for us to show our talent.
? How is your experience from the last few series as skipper helping?
A: It’s very helpful. Even though we lost some of those we were competitive. That’s what we want. Even fans need us to be competitive so we could win these matches. We saw in recent times there are many big scores especially in one dayers and we are confident of making those.
? You had a long journey in cricket and there were instances you were even out of the team. So did you ever think you will lead Sri Lanka one day?
A: No. That never crossed my mind. I was in and out from the team for about 3 and half years and obviously my priority was to play for the national team and never even thought about the captaincy. Even at the last Zimbabwe series I wasn’t in the original squad and was out from the series before and it was only after injuries to Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal that I was included in the team.
I should be thankful to the selectors and SLC for trusting me for the role. But even though I was out from the team I was never out of cricket. I played for my club and went overseas and always tried to improve my game and enjoy it. I always believed that if I play well I will get a chance.
? After 2011 there were many players who came to open along with Thilakaratne Dilshan. Kusal Perera was going well and even Mahela Jayawardane started opening the inning. So did you ever feel you might not get a chance again?
A: Well there was no doubt that I will get my chance, because I was in and out from the team rather than being out of the team for years. It’s not easy to go out there and perform when I get a chance all of a sudden. Selectors must have tried different things that’s why I was dropped. And even when I came back I got to play in the middle order and I think I did that well too.
? How do you maintain performance when you are thrown around in various position of the batting order like that?
A: It is very hard. Playing as an opener and playing at lower middle order are two very different roles. I played as an opener for 7-8 years or number three before I was asked to bat in the middle order. As a player I’m happy that I could achieve, batting down the order. Now I’m used to it. Even last year Angelo Mathews and Sanath Jayasuriya came to me and asked me to bat down the order since Danushka Gunathilaka and Niroshan Dickwella were playing well. So we always have to think about what the team needs.
Personally I like to play as an opener but have to think about the team’s need than personal preferences and adjust accordingly because we always make those plans to win matches.
? Even now you are playing two different roles, opening in Tests and playing at number four in the ODI?
A: I’m used to that now but for a newcomer it can be very hard. Number four is an important place. It’s where we control the game. As an experience player I have to play that role.
? You have an uphill task leading SL team for the ICC 2019 World Cup. How do you see it?
A: We are down in rankings now. We have to work together to come up with that and as captain I have to lead by example. We have good players and I always trust them, give them confidence and freedom to play their natural games.
? Fielding has been a worry for Sri Lanka for long. How is it now?
A: We have improved a lot. We can see more players diving to stop the ball. We practice hard at our fielding and everyone is eager to do that now. Whatever we do in life, if we don’t love it we cannot achieve success. Players have realized that and now they do fielding more willingly as they have got to know how important that is.
? Common belief is players are freer and click as a unit along with you as the captain especially in the last few series. What‘s your specialty?
A: I really can’t say what that is. But I always give them freedom to do what they want, and I’m very friendly with them despite them being junior or senior. I really don’t think about it.