Adelaide, Feb 13: As he gets ready to play the final phase of his 18-year long illustrious career, Mahela Jayawardene says he will miss the Sri Lankan dressing room after the conclusion of 2015 Cricket World Cup.
The countdown will start for Jayawardene when he takes the field tomorrow at Christchurch in the World Cup match between Sri Lanka and New Zealand.
"After 18 years, I will of course miss playing for the national side. However, I was always prepared for it and had taken decision (to retire) well in advance. So I have had time to adjust to it. Another reason was that I wanted youngsters to get their share of opportunities," Jayawardene, who will bid adieu to international cricket after the World Cup, told PTI in an exclusive interview.
Asked how difficult will it be for Sri Lanka to get another supremely talented batting artist as Jayawardene, the former Sri Lankan captain sounded positive.
"Sri Lanka has plenty of talented young cricketers and I am sure they will rise up and leave their own mark," said Jayawardene, who has more than 25,000 international runs (25,832) across three formats.
Despite being one among the contemporary greats of the game, it is humility with which Jayawardene assessed his career.
"I have been very fortunate to have had a relatively successful career," said the batsman, who has scored a staggering 11,814 runs in Tests, 12,525 runs in ODI, including 53 international hundreds.
"When I started out, I did not think I could achieve so much and reach so many milestones while also playing my part in a number of successful Sri Lankan national squads.
I am also very lucky to have not had any major injuries affect my career. It's been a privilege to play and represent the country and I am very grateful to everyone, who has supported and helped me along the way.
As a team, hopefully we can finish up on a high," he said. Jayawardene considers himself "fortunate" to have played in the era of great batsmen such as Sachin Tendulkar,
Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting although he refused to pick his favourite contemporary. "It's difficult to pick any particular player as there are so many good players that I have been fortunate to play against and learn from along the way."
'In 2007, no one really gave a chance'
In his four editions of ODI World Cup appearances, Jayawardene has been a member of two sides that lost finals to Australia and India in the 2007 and 2011, respectively.
The former Sri Lanka skipper made no bones about the fact that loss to India in the 2011 edition in Mumbai, did "hurt" as he scored a classy hundred.
"In 2007, no one really gave us a chance, but I felt that 2011, we just weren't able to take our chances despite being in good position," he said in his assessment.
Call it ironical but it was at Hagley Oval in Christchurch that Jayawardene scored his most recent and 18th international ODI hundred, and he felt he had been batting well in recent times.
"I feel I have been batting well over the past six months although I still feel that I could have played a little better in the last few innings (ODIs against New Zealand). Overall, though, I am feeling confident and hope to continue to perform in the World Cup," he said.
Despite losing 2-4 to New Zealand in the seven-match series, Jayawardene said that playing the co-hosts has been ideal preparation for them.
"Our preparation has been good despite the results against New Zealand as we are now used to the conditions. Just waiting to get to the first game now and make sure we perform like we know we are capable of and progressing through the tournament. Our chance is as good as any other team and I believe that we can beat any team if we play our best game," Jayawardene insisted.
The 37-year-old admitted that conditions in New Zealand will be challenging but the motto will be to take one game at a time.
"The conditions will be a little challenging but we have had some games now to try and get used to them. We will just take one game at a time rather than get ahead of ourselves. In previous tournaments, we were never the favourites but managed to get to a number of finals with this approach," the seasoned campaigner observed.
After World Cup, Jayawardene intends to freelance in private T20 leagues across the globe which according to him is a logical way of ending his professional career.
"The cricket that is left in me, I am better-placed playing shortest format and I hope to try and wind down my career playing in those leagues (IPL, Big Bash)," he concluded.