The cricketer's cricketer performs to the highest levels, with integrity and fairness, being as aggressive as ever, providing inspiration to those who also play at that high level, or want to play there. He must also be approachable, by anyone. Extremely few qualify. Sri Lanka's Sanath Jayasuriya does as he talks to Colin Croft in this interview. Jayasuriya, nearly 41 years old, has astounding cricketing records: (a) 110 Tests, 6973 runs, h.s. 340, avg. 40.07, 98 wickets. (b) 444 ODI's, 13428 runs, h.s. 189, avg. 32.43, 322 wickets. (c) 77 T-20's, 1773 runs, h.s. 114, avg. 24.97, 57 wickets. "Jaya" seems to have been around cricket forever!
Colin Croft (CC): You are a real live cricket legend. Should I address you as the "Honourable" Sanath Jayasuriya? You are now a Parliamentarian.
Sanath Jayasuriya (SJ): As in my cricket career, I did the hard political campaign, did the elections and won very easily in my home-town; Matara District.
CC: We do not want to speak much about politics, but they do mix, in your case. How did you manage to get here?
SJ: Ironically, as a boy, I saw the West Indies. When I started to play at school, I thought of them. I have worked very hard, training hard. You have to do that or you would not last any time at all, much less 20 years. When you have the natural love of a game, and have done so much hard work over the years, realising that you have had so much difficulty to get into the team in the first place, you know that you will have to keep up that work ethic to still be playing. I eat well, train hard and focus on my efforts and work; major keys to fitness and success.
CC: You have been very involved in the reassessment of Sri Lankan and international cricket, especially the shorter form, the 50 ODI's.
SJ: My approach to batting changed just before the 1996 World Cup. It changed my career. Romesh (Kaluwitharana) and myself were promoted to give us a good start. It worked. Since then, I have been opening in every version of the game, especially the one-dayers, for about 12 years.
CC: You have become a utility cricketer, the ultimate all-rounder.
SJ: You must also remember that in ODI's and Tests, I have played as a spinner. Sometimes, the opportunity that you hope for never comes, but you take the one that does. In the West Indies, the pitches are always slow, so I can always make use of my left-arm spin.
CC: You had retired once, and were then encouraged to return by Sri Lanka's minister of sport. Is there any thought of that now, as you have just become a parliamentarian?
SJ: I had retired from Test matches. So, I came back to play those. Now, I only want to play 50-over and 20-over cricket. My key, at the end of this year, is to assess my international career overall, but I am going along, tour by tour, for now.
CC: You were Sri Lanka's captain from 1999 to 2003, making captaincy look so easy.
SJ: When I became captain, I took over from Arjuna (Ranatunga), who had been captain for 10 years. I had no experience in captaincy whatsoever. I had a young team, because that is where our transition started for the future. At that time, we had six great players, but we also knew that we needed to get some newer players in too; Arjuna Ranatunga, Aravinda De Silva, Roshan Mahanama, Hashan Tellakaratne and Asanka Gurusinha. They all went out of our team at the same time. The team that I got was very young in age and experience. Everyone supported me and I looked to them for support too. The first six months were crucial. Both Arjuna and Aravinda played on and helped me immensely with my captaincy. Eventually, I did well as my country's captain.
CC: After playing for 20 years, you have, interestingly, followed Arjuna Ranatunga and Hashan Tillikaratne into politics.
SJ: I need to do much work for the people of Sri Lanka in the political field, especially in my immediate area. They have put their faith in me and I have great responsibilities. That is why they put me on first place in the ballots. They know how hard I can work and have given me that honour of helping and representing them. I think that in this present Sri Lanka government and President Mahinda Rajapaksa, I will get much help for my local area, and for the country's general development.
CC: What was your best moment in cricket?
SJ: Certainly the ICC World Cup 1996 victory for Sri Lanka was the greatest highlight and will always be remembered. Nobody thought that we could play such good cricket. Only after we had won that competition did our players get continuing opportunities to play more Tests, county cricket and go overseas.
CC: You have 27 runs less than 7000 Test runs and 2 wickets less than 100 Test wickets. Did you not think of getting those few?
SJ: Look, I am extremely lucky, happy and honoured to have played so much and so well for my country. I know that I helped change what an opening batsman is supposed to be.
CC: Some of the fielding that is seen in T-20 cricket is unbelievable. How do you cope?
SJ: I do exactly the work that the others do, then do some more. I never do anything loose. I need to be fit, as whatever you are doing, you need to be running from the very first ball, to the end of a T-20 game.
CC: This T-20 in the Caribbean could be your last international world event, but there is the ICC 50-over World Cup in Asia next year. Could you be tempted to play?
SJ: That has been in the back of my mind. If I perform, I could be selected.
CC: When this T-20 2010 started, I picked Sri Lanka as the potential winners. Yet, you lost the first game to New Zealand.
SJ: We were bitterly disappointed when New Zealand beat us. We made many little mistakes, which added up to a major loss. We simply cannot repeat that sort of game if we are to progress to the final and perhaps win. Last year, we lost that final to Pakistan, another great disappointment for us. All that we have to do now is play as we know that we can.
CC: How would you like to be remembered in the annals of cricket? People talk about Shane Warne, Brian Lara, Arjuna Ranatunga, Allan Border, Viv Richards. I would put you in that group of uniquely special cricketers that we have ever seen.
SJ: If I have done something special and represented my country well, and people think that I deserve the memory and respect, then that is good. I would dearly love to play to the ICC 2011 (50-over) Cricket World Cup, to finish up my career.
CC: I hope that you play longer than just the ICC 2011 World Cup. Thank you.
SJ: Thank you, Crofty. I too appreciate that legends like you want to talk to me.