South Asia

Sanath Jayasuriya: Master-blaster's exciting last stand

Sanath Jayasuriya
Image caption Sanath Jayasuriya says that he wants to keep cricket and politics separate

The news that veteran Sri Lankan cricketer Sanath Jayasuriya will play one more Twenty20 and a one-day international in England before finally retiring will delight cricket fans around the world. In an interview with the BBC's Charles Haviland in Colombo, the legendary all-rounder spoke of his happiness at being selected.

As he announces his impending retirement, Sanath Jayasuriya says he does not regret entering politics last year but admits it has alienated some of his fans.

But he admitted that his country's cricket board was in trouble.

The "master blaster", now nearly 42 and the oldest player in international cricket, took the unusual step of entering politics while still playing professionally, getting elected to parliament on the ticket of President Mahinda Rajapaksa's Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

'No regrets'

Disappointment followed when selectors failed to pick him for the ICC World Cup - but his international career has now been resurrected for one last time before he retires.

Image caption The veteran batsman is making his final trips to the crease

He said it was definitely the case that some of his adoring fans had revised their view of him because of his political career.

"When you play as a cricketer, they all love you as a unit. When you go to a [political] party, naturally it's divided. So I need to face that.

"Just before I came to politics, I thought of that, and I know it's going to be a half-half situation - unless you're a very big fan of mine," he said.

"I'm not regretting coming to politics. But the fans got divided, that's true."

He denied rumours, however, that his team-mates took a similarly unfavourable view.

"No, they never said anything about [my] coming to politics," he said.

"I am not a person who is interfering politics into the cricket. I am always like a normal human being, a normal member of the team."

Jayasuriya looked relaxed at Colombo's Premadasa Stadium as he trained with team-mates who will fly out with him for the limited-overs matches.

He said being dropped for the World Cup was one of the most disappointing things in his sporting life but thanked the new team of selectors for choosing him.

'Winning's my priority'

But all is not well with cricket in Sri Lanka.

The politically appointed "interim committee" of its board is widely derided. BBC Sinhala recently established that the board was heavily in debt.

And there was turmoil after the World Cup as the captain, vice-captain and selectors all resigned.

Now Jayasuriya's erstwhile team-mate and opening partner, Upul Tharanga, faces a disciplinary hearing after failing a dope test, and a former captain alleges that there is a 20-year history of match-fixing in the country.

I put it to Sanath Jayasuriya that cricket in Sri Lanka is in a mess.

He agreed that the board was in "trouble at the moment... they're in a kind of situation at the moment".

"I think it's up to the administrators to look into those areas," he said.

Tharanga's situation was "unfortunate" but he did not want to comment further while it was under investigation.

What about the political stance of this cricketer-politician - the international pressure on Sri Lanka over its human rights record and the conduct of the war?

Jayasuriya said the international community "should realise that the Sri Lankan government has stopped one of the worst terrorist organisations in the world".

"I am 41 years old. Thirty years of my life, we went through a terrible time in Sri Lanka. Anybody can come into my country now and walk anywhere without fear," he said.

Referring to the many soldiers lost in the war, he said the world should realise that defeating the Tamil Tigers was not easy, and it should be "happy" at what the government had achieved.

At the moment, he asserted, the international community was concentrating its criticism on just the Sri Lankan government and "that is where we are disappointed".

On their previous tour of England, Sri Lanka won five one-day matches out of five, and having played for three county sides, Jayasuriya says he will feel at home there during this final tour.

"I will give 100%, and I want to win for Sri Lanka. As a batsman, a bowler or fielder, whenever I cross this [boundary] rope I will do my best and to make sure Sri Lanka wins, that's my priority."

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