Tillakaratne Dilshan wants to become the first Sri Lanka captain to secure a Test series victory in England after leaving the IPL early to lead his team. Although they famously won the one-off clash at The Oval in 1998, when Muttiah Muralitharan took 16 wickets, their best results in a series on English soil is the 1-1 in 2006 which was again secured thanks to a match-winning effort by Muralitharan Trent Bridge.
This time there is no Muralitharan, but Dilshan has promised not to take a backward step over the next month. "Beating England in their own conditions in the early part of summer is not going to be easy, we have to play very good cricket to do that," he said. "But I am really confident with our boys. As a team we can give England a good run. It's a good challenge for everyone. Before the team leaves for England I will have a word with my players. We are going there with only one intention - to win the series. We are not going there just to draw or to survive in England we want to beat them. We are going to England with that mindset. I am seriously looking forward to the upcoming series."
How determined Dilshan is with his new responsibility can be gauged by the fact that he has made himself available to lead his team for the three-day tour opener, against Middlesex, starting on May 14 which meant cutting short his commitments with Royal Challengers BangaIore in the ongoing IPL tournament in India.
Unlike past captains Dilshan does not have the luxury of match-winning bowlers of the caliber of Muralitharan, Chaminda Vaas and Lasith Malinga all of whom have retired from Test cricket. However, he is confident with his new look bowling line-up, headed by Dilhara Fernando whose experience stretches to only 35 Tests and 90 wickets from a career spanning ten years, and believes team can match England, if not defeat them.
"We have to give the chance to youngsters and this is a good opportunity for them to prove how good they are at international cricket," he said. "As a captain I have a lot of confidence in my young bowlers that they can do a good job. I know the England batting line-up is very strong but I have faith with my fast bowlers and spinners that they can handle this batting line-up. I am sure these young fast bowlers will put their hands up and give their best to the team.
"We have only one experienced bowler in Dilhara but the others have the ability to deliver what they've got. With the help of fast bowling coach Champaka Ramanayake, and all the senior players who have played in England before, they can share their experience on how to adjust to the conditions in the early summer. This is a good challenge for me going with a set of young fast bowlers. As captain I have the fullest confidence that they can do a good job for Sri Lanka."
The bowlers picked to support Fernando are left-armer Chanaka Welegedara (six Tests, 12 wickets), Suranga Lakmal (two Tests, three wickets) and the uncapped pair of Nuwan Pradeep and Thisara Perera. Considering the career figures Sri Lanka's fast bowling looks pretty short of experience in comparison to the spin department. In Muralitharan's absence it will be handled by left-armer Rangana Herath (24 Tests, 78 wickets), Ajantha Mendis (15 Tests, 61 wickets) and Suraj Randiv (three Tests, 14 wickets).
Dilshan admitted that batting will be Sri Lanka's forte. "We have the same strong batting line-up we've had for the past four or five years in Test cricket. The only thing is the bowling unit is new and inexperienced. Our strength is batting but overall I am really happy with the 16-member squad. I have allrounders, spinners, fast bowlers and good batsmen. This team can turn out to be a good one in the future."
Dilshan's way of looking at everything positively is certain to rub off on the team. "I don't want to change my approach or attitude towards the game because I am captain. With my positive batting I have been very successful. I am not going to change too much from what I have been doing in the last three or four years. I have to adjust and take decisions in the middle which is the only change I foresee from what I have been doing. I am a positive character and I enjoy playing the game. I may sometimes take decisions which others might be surprised with. I think I can do a good job."
Already the responsibility of captaincy has brought a change in Dilshan. He has discarded his earring and done away with the tint in his hair. "As a captain I have to set an example for the youngsters. I have to maintain discipline both on and off the field. As captain I want to set a high standard on the field all the time. We are ambassadors of our country.
"The last few years we have played very good cricket, we have been runners up twice in the 50-over World Cup and once in the World Twenty20. We are a very consistent cricket team and I want to carry that forward by adding a few small things of my own. I need to discuss it with the new coach and coaching staff."
Dilshan's appointment as captain to succeed Kumar Sangakkara who stood down after the World Cup final defeat against India did come in for universal approval, but Dilshan isn't worried about winning any popularity contests. "If you take five people you can get five different views. Everyone can say different things about me but the Cricket Board and the selectors had the confidence to appoint me as captain," he said.
"As a cricketer it's a great achievement to captain your country. I think I am capable of leading this team and at the same time enjoy my captaincy. I am going to get 100 percent out of the players. As captain I may take surprise decisions for that's the kind of player I am. I am going with a positive frame of mind. I might turn out to be a different captain for Sri Lanka," said Dilshan.
Dilshan has still not celebrated his appointment as Sri Lanka captain, but wants to keep it until the end of the England tour. "I was a little bit excited when I first heard of my new appointment when I got a call from the cricket board. I was in India at that time and I spoke to my family and everyone was happy. I want to first finish the tour of England before celebrating the occasion." If Sri Lanka beat England he will have every right for a huge party.