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Atapattu — Sri Lanka's pillar of strength

COLOMBO, JULY 27. As captain he is positive and a staunch believer that Sri Lanka should play its cricket with natural flair and combative instincts. As a batsman, Marvan Atapattu is technically sound and a pillar of strength at the top of the order.

After he cracked his sixth Test double hundred, against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo recently, you began to wonder if this was the same batsman who commenced his international career in early 90s with five ducks in his first six innings.

Only Don Bradman (12), Walter Hammond (seven) and Brian Lara (seven) have scored more double centuries.

"I'd say strength of mind is an area I've improved in significantly from when I began to now. I was very raw when I started," said Atapattu.

Though he has scored a lot of runs against Zimbabwe (1,145 from 10 Tests with five centuries, three of them doubles hundreds), the opener pointed out England brings out the best in him.

"I don't know why, though. Is it because England was where cricket began? I don't know."

Atapattu has scored one double hundred (201 at Kandy) and one century (185 at Lord's) against England.

In terms of pitches, Atapattu, who took over as captain in Test cricket after Lanka's 3-0 loss to Australia at home earlier this year, says he relishes the bouncy tracks Down Under.

"The ball comes on nicely. I like it that way," said the 34-year-old. To succeed in Australia one needs to be comfortable against the short, fast delivery.

"I've never had problems with that. I've realised that you should not show the bowler that you don't like it. Or else, he'll keep at it. Also, never hook unless you are 100 per cent sure."

Atapattu does not agree that putting away a few good deliveries damages a bowler's confidence. "Personally, no. I've always believed that playing a bowler confidently not only damages his confidence, but also the captain's. For then the skipper begins to feel that the particular bowler is ineffective and opts for a change in the attack."

Taking the initiative

The Kalutara-born likes to take charge early in the innings. "When I get to 20s-30s I tell myself to take control. As an opener you are up against the moving ball and, once you see that off you've obviously got your eye in."

Asked to name one quality each in three contemporary batsmen he admires most, Atapattu, who has been leading the Island in one-day cricket for a year now, said, "Lara for his ability to carry the team forward, Sachin's capacity to handle pressure and Dravid's mental make-up."

Describing his wife as the biggest influence in his career, Atapattu said, "were I to start all over again, the first thing I'd avoid doing is take advise from 100 people at the same time."

On captaincy, he said: "Expectations are very high in Sri Lanka. I focus on inculcating team spirit. You've got to care and feel for the other. Learn to enjoy your mate's good performance. I stress a lot on these aspects." — Sanjay Rajan

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