Before the World T20 had commenced, Muttiah Muralitharan had spoken to The Indian Express and predicted a Sri Lankan victory. After watching Lasith Malinga’s team lift the trophy, the 1996 World Cup winning off-spinner was happy his prediction had come true and explained the context of their maiden World T20 triumph. He was also delighted for Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara retiring from international T20s on a high and put Yuvraj Singh’s travails in perspective. Excerpts:
On Sri Lanka’s triumph
We have been playing brilliantly for the last six months. In fact, we haven’t lost for a long time. We beat India and Pakistan — title contenders in these conditions — while winning the Asia Cup, carrying our confidence into this tournament.
We are a good batting unit and have the spinners to exploit the conditions. So, I believed Sri Lanka could go the distance. I said that when I spoke to you before the tournament. I’m very happy that the boys played wonderful cricket to live up to expectations.
On breaking the ‘hoodoo’
I don’t like the word hoodoo. Reaching the final of a world event is a big achievement and our record in ICC events speaks volumes of our consistency.
It was not the case that we choked in the finals. In the 2007 World Cup, Australia were easily the better side. In 2011, India played better than us. In the 2012 World T20 final, we were done in by a couple of fantastic individual performances. Now, we have played better than our rivals to win back-to-back finals (the Asia Cup and World T20). This is the beauty of cricket.
On Sanga and Mahela
They’re great players, legends, and I’m very happy to see them go out (from this format) on a high. They’ve been fantastic servants of the game and Sri Lankan cricket, and have achieved a lot, but were missing a World Cup title. Their trophy cabinets will be more complete now. It’s like Sachin (Tendulkar) — he had to wait for so many years to win the World Cup which he eventually won in 2011.
On life after legends
Life goes on. We had Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva. Then came Sanath (Jayasuriya), (Romesh) Kaluwitharana and (Marvan) Atapattu. Mahela and Sanga arrived close on their heels. Now it’s time for youngsters to take over. There are many good players and I expect Lahiru Thirimanne and Angelo Mathews to step into their shoes in this format.
On Lanka’s death bowling
It was magnificent. Lasith Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekara reminded me of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. They bowled very well and maintained a great level of consistency. The challenge, for our bowlers, is to produce such performance more frequently.
On World Cup 2015 chances
It’s still far away and difficult to predict so early. But I expect Sri Lanka to be a serious force to reckon with despite the World Cup being played in different conditions. Of course, Australia and New Zealand will have the advantage because they’re used to the conditions.
On ‘96 vs ‘14
That 1996 win was a landmark moment for Sri Lankan cricket as it gave us an identity. This win also is hugely creditable but we are talking about different formats and different eras. There shouldn’t be any comparison.
On Yuvraj’s failure
Yuvraj is a great player. Last night was not his day and it is very unfortunate the way he’s being vilified. Yuvraj was the star when India won the World T20 in 2007. He almost single-handedly gave India the World Cup in 2011.
On fans’ backlash
The fans should have more respect for the players, especially for those like Yuvraj who have done plenty for the game in India. Also, we are forgetting the fact that the Sri Lankan bowlers bowled really well in the final overs.
Just one bad game doesn’t make a player bad. It would be premature to write off a class act like Yuvraj. I expect him to come back strongly in the IPL.