Mahela: In wanting to improve, I challenge myself everyday - A TELEGRAPH SPECIAL The Sri Lankan captain on leadership and more

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  • Published 12.08.08

Colombo: Mahela Jayawardene, adjudged the ICC’s Captain of the Year in 2006, recently had a one-on-one with The Telegraph, with the focus largely being on his leading Sri Lanka.

The following are excerpts:

Q Being rated both as a good batsman and captain

A I’ve been pushing myself in both roles, seeing how far I could go... In wanting to improve, I challenge myself everyday... That effort is getting rewarded, by way of results and accolades... It’s overwhelming at times, but I’m more happy with the progress our team has made.

Whether there’s a next level

(Smiles) There’s always a next level... It may not be possible to explain what it is, but you’ve got to keep working hard and keep pushing the boundaries back... Generally speaking, the next level would cover all three areas — mental, physical and technical... Any team would benefit enormously if each player improved by, say, even 10 per cent.

A captain being as good as his team

Of course, yes... It’s the team which does the hard work... The team needs to know the boundaries... The players need to know their roles... A lot of people have helped me get to where I am and I remain grateful to them.

Whether, at a young age, he’d himself realised he had leadership qualities

Difficult to say... Look, I’ve just tried to be the person I am... Have just been trying to do the right things... I’m trying to figure out solutions for problems and the leadership qualities are coming out... A captain has to deal with issues in certain situations and that’s where leadership comes in.

Qualities that are a must for captains

Good communication skills, not only with the players and support staff, but with the administrators as well... The captain must also be transparent and, so, everybody knows where they stand and where the captain stands in relation to them... He has to be straight-forward... He has to help create the right environment... At the end of the day, though, a captain can only do one or two things... He can’t do 10 things... I feel the captain must be a good listener too as one can learn quite a bit by listening to people... Also, if mistakes are made, then the captain should be able to rectify them as early as possible.

If he’d been bowled over by any captain before he himself got the job, in 2005-06

Well, Arjuna (Ranatunga) and Aravinda (de Silva)... We’ve had good captains, with each one of them bringing something special to the table... Having said that, when you’re the captain, you’ve got to be yourself... (After a pause) Somebody like Nasser Hussain instilled a lot of pride in the England team... He wanted his team to play in a particular way... Captains will be different and one has to learn from the way the better ones have handled situations.

Style of captaincy

I’m very impulsive... One can plan a lot of things, but it all gets down to how the bowlers bowl and how well the batters have been able to adjust to the conditions... Strategy, I think, has to be flexible with a Plan B and a Plan C ready all the time... I do go with my instincts and if I feel that something could work, I give it a shot... When I get back to the hotel, I shouldn’t be thinking that I ought to have tried what I’d thought could work.

Staying calm

It’s when you’re calm that you make the best decisions... Being the captain, I’ve got to control things out in the middle... So, it’s best to remain calm.

On the presence of former captains (Sanath Jayasuriya, who is still playing ODIs, and Maravan Atapattu) in the dressing room during the early stages of his captaincy

I didn’t have a problem settling down... In a way, they helped me... I got their help in planning, in the role the seniors should play... I didn’t have a problem communicating with them...

Toughest decision as captain

Probably not giving Maravan a match in the last World Cup... It wasn’t anything personal and, to his credit, he didn’t take it personally either... It was a tough one, yes, but a captain has the responsibility to take such decisions... If someone else can take those decisions better, then it will be time to leave the captaincy... I’m transparent and the players are free to ask questions. I won’t say that I’m not going to give reasons for a decision taken by me... Once a captain is transparent, he doesn’t have to worry.

Approach to cricket

I hate losing, even if it’s a charity match...

Handling the pressure of being both the captain and a leading batsman

I take the captain’s cap off when I go to bat... The way I look at things is that every member of the XI has a responsibility... It’s not that the captain alone has to think about what’s best for the team.


As a team, we do a lot of activities away from cricket... In the last World Cup, for example, we even had a quiz competition which continued throughout the tournament. Eventually, my team won, beating Kumar Sangakkara’s by a few points... The team, by the way, has a social committee... I try and involve myself in things away from cricket... Could be a round of golf or just going out... (After a pause) I’m not a big reader, but my wife (Christina) reads a lot and forces me to read too.

Following other sport

(Grins) Follow quite a few... Where soccer is concerned, I’m a Manchester United fan... I also follow the careers of top sportsmen, see what they do in tough situations...

Lastly, just how long did it take to get over the disappointment of losing the 2007 World Cup final (to Australia)

Look, I believe that cricket is just a game and there will be winners and losers... Looking back, we gave everything we had... The boys were brilliant throughout and, in the final, we lost to the better team on the day... One can look back and regret or move forward with the belief that we gave it everything... I took the latter route... Had I been a neutral, I would’ve sat back and enjoyed Adam Gilchrist’s blazing knock (149 in 104 balls)... Unfortunately, being the opposition captain, I was at the receiving end... Had it been Sanath Jayasuriya’s day, then the Australians would’ve been at the receiving end... That’s how it goes in cricket.