At 10:50 am on Saturday, we arrive at Sri Lanka Cricket headquarters and inform the security post that we have an appointment with Sanath Jayasuriya at 11: am. He tells us that Sanath is in the gym and we get closer to the gym to see him training. He indicates to us to wait for a few minutes and adjusts the treadmill and sets off for a quick run. His enthusiasm is unwavering and contagious for other young players around.
Jayasuriya will be 39 in a fortnight and with the fortune he earned at the IPL you would have expected the father of three to quietly enjoy the luxuries of retirement. But Sanath being Sanath is keen to still play international cricket and keener to prove some doubters wrong.
"Age doesn’t matter. If you ask me it’s only a number. What’s important is whether you are fit enough to stand the rigours of six hours of international cricket. I am confident that I still have cricket in me to play at the highest level," Sanath tells philosophically.
He might feel that way, but what if the team doesn’t want him. "It’s a different matter, but if you can prove them wrong by playing good cricket that’s the way to go," he says challenging his doubters.
He maintains that there aren’t any permanent places in the side for anyone and doesn’t hide the fact that selection for the home series against India depends on his performance in the Asia Cup. "I wasn’t picked for the West Indies, but now I have been picked to play Asia Cup. If I do well, I will be there for the next series and if I don’t do well, I will be out. That’s how it happens in cricket. You shouldn’t have long term plans and I am enjoying the challenge given to me," he said.
There were various speculations when Jayasuriya was dropped from the side for the Caribbean series. It was said that one of the selectors told his colleagues to close the door on Sanath Jayasuriya for good, but his performance at the Indian Premier League was such that if he wasn’t picked for the Asia Cup there would have been a public outcry as this man simply made the whole of Sri Lanka to become Mumbai Indian supporters with his audacious stroke play and down to earth attitude.
"People have their own opinion and everyone is entitled to one as well. Maybe there was some pressure put on the people concerned. In our part of the world, people will try to manipulate others. I am not worried about any of these things. Over the last 19 years, I have played for Sri Lanka, I believe I performed for the team."
Jayasuriya was one of the success stories in the IPL tournament and his good performance helped him to earn a recall to the national side. "I enjoyed the IPL. Apart from the cricket I played, I had the opportunity of meeting some guys who had been my fierce opponents over the years. You learn other cultures and get to know some of these players too. The Reliance Group, the owners of Mumbai Indians was very good to us as well. Mr. Mukesh Ambani was firmly behind us and treated us well. When we were losing the first few games, they didn’t put any pressure. They basically treated us like their own family," Jayasuriya recalls.
The Mumbai Indians struggled to get off the blocks losing their first three games. After the initial setback, Jayasuriya returned home briefly for two days and when he returned to Mumbai he was at his awesome best once again.
"In the first three games, I was getting out for 20s and 30s. That was worrying as that had been the case in the last four or five months for me. When I went back to Mumbai after a brief break, my rhythm was back and I soon scored a hundred. "
And those who know him tell you the story that during his two day stay here he was mostly hanging around the temples asking the Gods to intervene to get his touch back. And Jayasuriya doesn’t deny that. "Well, not only on this particular instance, I normally do that. I have my own believes and I still believe that played a part," he says.
Sachin a simple and nice man
Seeing the Mumbai opening combination of Sanath Jayasuriya and Sachin Tendulkar thrilled the spectators. Tendulkar, who once said, "I haven’t seen Bradman, but I have seen Jayasuriya," is supposed to have played a key role in acquiring Jayasuriya to his team.
"People were thrilled to see both of us opening. I have always enjoyed Sachin’s company and we had mutual respect as opponents and playing in the same team was an unbelievable experience," Jayasuriya explained.
"When I was going after the bowling, Sachin would come to me and remind that we had scored enough runs and now’s the time to completely demoralize the opposition and not to lose my wicket. He comes up with various suggestions as well. He’s a very simple and a nice man. He’s also a good team player and gives confidence to youngsters and I think a lot of younger players learnt from him
Mumbai finished fifth on the points table of the IPL and failed to make it to the semi-finals. And despite having contributed immensely for the team’s success, Jayasuriya admits part of the blame for not seeing his side through in the competition. "We lost three very close games in the last over. I am responsible for losing one game along with Dilhara. But other than that there was no luck going for us at all, but overall, we played good cricket as we came from behind to beat stronger teams."
Future of 50 Over cricket
The former captain feels that 50 over One-Day International tournaments will gradually lose appeal, but he’s of the opinion that no harm will come Test cricket’s way. "Twenty-20 is very popular at the moment and the crowds have embraced it. I personally feel that the 50 over game will have major challenges unless they change, especially in the middle overs. But I don’t think there’s going to be any issue with Test cricket, it won’t be harmed. When 50 overs game was introduced they said it was going to affect Test cricket, but it didn’t happen. Over 100 years of Test cricket can’t be easily killed."
While the Twenty-20 game suits a player of Jayasuriya’s type, he says given the option, he would choose Test cricket over Twenty-20 any day. "Obviously I would opt for Test cricket no matter what. I have played over 100 Test Matches for my country and playing Tests is a unique experience. It’s at that level your character and temperament is tested over a period of five days."
Turning down Warwickshire offer
Had things gone to the script and Sri Lankan selectors not picked Jayasuriya, he would have enjoyed the riches of county cricket as well as he was contracted to make Birmingham his home for a brief period playing for Warwickshire in England’s Twenty-20 competition.
"I was keen in playing for Warwickshire, but once I was called for national duty, I realized it clashed with English county season and I had to turn it down."
Is too much money spoiling young cricketers?
Players like Jayasuriya came up in life the hard way and even when he was playing for Sri Lanka, he was putting up at friends and relatives places in Colombo. But tournaments such as the IPL and national contracts has poured riches onto players and some have expressed their concern at younger players losing focus.
"It depends on how you manage your money. Cricketers don’t have any other job and they need to have money. But the important thing is to not to lose your values. If you have an option between your country and franchise, there’s absolutely no doubt whatsoever in my mind where my priority should be. Country always comes first. Younger players should realize that. Since a lot of money is involved, you need to have your values. There are things that you should do and shouldn’t do.
Sri Lanka’s physiotherapist Tommy Simsek had won the heart of Jayasuriya for his injury management and knowledge on physiotherapy and Jayasuriya said the team will badly feel his absence in the coming months."After Alex Kontouri went, Tommy was the best physio we had and we are going to miss him in a big way. I don’t know the reasons for his departure, but it’s a big loss for Sri Lankan cricket. Whatever the reasons that made him to quit his job, it’s a big loss for the players. The same thing happened with Alex Kontouri and Australia were quick to grab him and we are going to miss Tommy very badly," Jayasuriya said.