Sanath Jayasuriya, along with Romesh Kaluwitharana, redefined the art of opening in limited-overs in the 1990s. The former Sri Lanka captain, now the chief selector, played with 2.6-2.7 pounds bat with thin edges. He talks to The Indian Express on ICC’s bat-dimension regulations, besides some of the issues plaguing Sri Lankan cricket.
Do you think modern bats have made the game lopsided? And has the ICC done the right thing by ringing in restrictions?
Time to time, bats have changed. Bat manufacturers come up with different ideas to give their products an advantage, to show the world that they’re better than the others. So they have been trying lots of things. Recently, they have been having thick edges with a lot of wood, but still they managed to keep a nice weight. We need to strike the right balance. The changes are for everyone, which is good. Umpires will come to the dressing room and check, which is a good thing.
What were the dimensions of your bat?
When I was playing, the only thing that mattered to me was a lighter bat and making sure I get the proper wood. We never thought anything about bat dimensions. Whatever the manufacturers did, we used to play. It all depended on the manufacturers. In countries where pitches had higher bounce, I used to have more meat at the top half of the bat. In the subcontinent, the bottom half used to be heavier. It was like that only, when we were playing. We never got worried about the thickness and edges. In fact, I always preferred thinner edges (to keep the bat to 2.6-2.7 pounds).
David Warner’s bat depth is 85mm for limited-overs cricket and he isn’t supportive of the change. He feels a lot of high-scoring matches are due to benign pitches. Do you agree?
Still, at the same time, you need to have a proper bat in terms of having the right balance between bat and ball. If you have more thickness or huge edges, it’s a big advantage to the batters.
Do you agree that pitches have generally become flatter?
In Test cricket, home teams prepare pitches according to their strengths. In ODIs and T20s, maybe spectators want to see high-scoring matches, which is why flatter pitches are prepared. When we played, the character of pitches used to vary significantly, from the subcontinent to England to Australia. Now I think, leaving aside the basic differences like higher bounce or lower bounce etc, wickets more or less follow a similar pattern in limited-overs cricket.
You, along with Romesh Kaluwitharana, redefined limited-overs opening batting without the advantage of modern-day bats. How do you explain this?
Mostly I would have got the best bats from the manufacturer. You need to have confidence in your bats. I played with Kookaburra, Reebok, SG, and I also used have bats from a guy from New Zealand, a private bat manufacturer. My bat handles used to be thin and the bottom of the handle was oval-shaped. That gave confidence to my hands. And I always watched the ball. My batting was basically hand-eye coordination, bat speed and timing.
You spoke about having thin bat handles. Did you prefer it because of your grip?
I gripped very hard, both hands very tight. I kept my hands pretty close and I gripped it right under the handle.
Did it allow you to play more shots square of the wicket?
Yes, cut and pull are easier. It helped me play the short ball better. But I could also hit through mid-on and mid-off.
The Jayasuriya-Kaluwitharana show started in Australia before the 1996 World Cup. What was the thought process behind such aggressive batting?
We had similar ways of batting right from our school days (different schools). Duleep Mendis, Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva had seen us playing attacking cricket at club level. So they gave us the licence to go out there and hit even in international cricket. The idea was to set the platform for a big score with quick-fire opening.
Did you change your batting approach and technique depending on conditions?
I didn’t change much. We played positive cricket everywhere. Some modifications were required, like while playing in England, focus was more on playing straight. Australia was easier, because pitches there had more bounce.
Coming to modern cricket, we have Warner and Chris Gayle, who are aggressive. How do you assess their batting?
They are attacking cricketers by nature. And even though they are very attacking cricketers, they always aim for big hundreds.
Do you agree modern bats helped their game?
Yes, modern bats have helped. But at the same time, you need to think and play. Because, it’s not only the bat and the wood. If you don’t watch the ball and hit properly, you will get out. But yes, with these modern bats, mishits can go for a boundary or a six. That’s why I said what the ICC did is good for everyone.
Any possibility of mishits going over the rope during your time?
Very rare. We didn’t have the advantage of such thick edges. But if I had the opportunity to play with these modern bats, I would have obviously picked one. It gives you a lot of confidence — top edge going for a six.
After the restrictions, do you see totals coming down gradually, especially in T20s?
Bat manufacturers are creative people. They will come up with some other ideas to make up for this. But now I think the ability to time the ball would be important.
In Sri Lanka, several former cricketers join politics and then come to cricket administration. In India, the Lodha Committee recommendations have encouraged former players to come into administration but politicians were kept at an arm’s length. How do you look at it?
Different countries look at it differently. Earlier, we used to have interim committees. Now we have returned to a democratically elected system. But former cricketers coming into administration is good for the game.
Don’t you think it’s better to not have political influence in sport?
As I told you, the system in Sri Lanka is different. Our sports law allows this. The only thing I want as a former cricketer is the game to be run properly.
But the Sri Lankan board has never been one of the best-run bodies in the world, affected by turmoil and government interventions.
You can’t say that. The cricketers have been provided with everything. Administration is separate. There had been ups and downs. There were ups and downs in Indian board also. There’s stability in the Sri Lankan board (now). The only thing is, when you are not doing well, people come and talk. When this team was winning against Australia one year ago, did you hear anything? We have to face this. We are always open to constructive criticisms. These are difficult times.
Are you disappointed with the way Arjuna Ranatunga is constantly criticising Sri Lankan cricket?
He is a former captain. He has the right to express his opinion. It is for me to decide whether it is correct or not. From August last year up till now, we had 24 players injured.
Has the Sri Lankan board chalked out a plan to take the game to the grassroots?
Now we have spread the game to all provinces. The current president wants the provincial tournament to be on top. The process has been initiated. But it will take some time to get the desired results.