But over the years, things have changed.
With some of the senior players retiring, Sri Lanka has been largely inconsistent. While it has flattered to deceive at world events, Sri Lanka looks like a shadow of its past. And Atapattu believes that there has to be proper planning, right from the grassroots level.
In the city for the UnAcademy Road Safety World Series - where he will represent Sri Lankan Legends - the former Sri Lanka captain spoke to Sportstar on a range of issues.
How excited are you to play against your old friends again in the Road Safety World Series? It must be an emotional moment to pad up again…
It is. I am almost 50 now. I am probably one of the oldest members in this tournament. To come and play with some of my team members, fellow countrymen and then to play against some of the legends, it is exciting. I think you can’t ask for anything more at this age for an ex-cricketer.
The concept of All-Star leagues has been very popular in England, Australia and the USA. Do you think that this tournament will mark a new beginning for such concepts in the subcontinent as well?
I think the game has moved forward, but the brand of cricket that we played probably two decades ago, was a bit different than what we see today. People from that generation certainly want to see how we still get along. The newer generation might come and see a Sachin Tendulkar and a Muralitharan and realise how they became legends. How they scored those thousands and thousands of runs and scalped so many wickets. It's something different to what we see in the ticketing world today.
What are your thoughts on the way Sri Lankan cricket is moving today? Do you think that the team is taking a bit too much of time to overcome the transition phase?
Let’s put it very simply - the term transition doesn't work with me.
It’s a lack of planning. I think there are too many things, too many cooks. We are not short of talent, but then, grooming and polishing the talent is something that we haven't done properly.
There was a time when Asian nations - India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan - would dominate world cricket. But that seems to have changed with Sri Lanka not putting up consistent performances. What are your thoughts?
We have not been really good other than the last one day series. Of course, in Test, we aren’t doing too badly. It's a long process for us. Cricketers just sort of come from nowhere. They need to be groomed, they need to be given a very strong foundation in terms of technique, in terms of personality. You do that and the sustainability of a cricketer last longer. And that is what Sri Lanka has to sort of think and do the right things from the grassroots level.
What would your advice be to the younger lot of Sri Lankan cricketers?
There is nothing wrong with the generation or the kids who are starting to play the game. The attitude is utmost important. The attitude and the approach to the game. You have got to have that attitude where you are ready to improve yourself everyday. It’s a learning curve for everybody, who holds the bat, or the ball. You need to keep that in your mind. You need to look and learn something new every day. Things won't go too much wrong. So I reckon that is something that the present lot of cricketers have to remember.
You belong to a generation when Sri Lankan cricket was all about batting superstars - Sanath Jayasuriya, Aravinda de Silva, Rohan Mahanama, Arjuna Ranatunga. But now, when you look back at the inconsistent batting line-up, does it hurt you?
It hurts. In my opinion, it only shows your upbringing as a cricketer. Your foundation and technique, your mental ability, how much pressure you can handle. It's all that. We were lucky in our generation that we had very good coaches at the start of our careers. As kids, we were able to sort of improve on what we taught, and then we had some good senior cricketers to look up to. They gave us advice on how to handle pressure when it came to the international stage, so we were lucky. That's the main difference that I see in batsmanship.
You spoke about coaches. Sri Lanka now has a new coach in Mickey Arthur. What are your expectations from him?
A coach will support you off the field. He, obviously, cannot perform for you. Here, I am talking in general and not taking any names. A coach cannot be good today and bad tomorrow - that doesn’t happen in my books. A coach is as good as his team. You can’t get the so-called best coach in the world and get him coach Kenya, Zimbabwe and then expect him to win the World Cup overnight.
That doesn’t happen. Coach doesn’t make huge difference in my opinion. He will support the youngsters. As cricketers, you got to remember that the seniors in the team are the engine rooms. They’ve got to run the business and tell the juniors how to handle pressure. In the dressing room, as a junior you always listen to a senior who’s scored 10,000 runs than a coach who’s played five games.
With the T20 World Cup lined up this year, do you expect Lasith Malinga to lead Sri Lanka?
I really don’t know what their plans are. I am a believer that you should not question the selectors when they are in the job. But when they are out of the job, they can be questioned and they are answerable.
You have always been an ambassador of Test cricket. Now with so many changes happening to the formats of the game, what are your thoughts?
I don't have a problem with cricket having different versions.
Are you okay with four-day Tests?
No. I am not okay with four-day Tests. I want the full five days. Remember, I started my career in a generation where we had three days of play, then one day rest and then again play.
Then the game went on for five days at a stretch which is fine. That’s good. And mind you, most of the time, everybody gets a rest in between. That's fine. Cricket needed different versions, a bit of variety - T20, T10. It’s good for the game. But then, you got to identify your talents to represent your team - be it T10 or T20.
It’s very important just because somebody does very well in T10 that doesn't mean that he plays Test cricket straightaway. He might I mean, in, in all fairness, it's good if he can get the same level and play for the country in all formats. But it doesn't happen.
Who is the best batsman in the world at the moment?
Virat (Kohli) is number one. There is no doubt about it. Anytime, against any opposition. The confidence that he carries and how he handles himself with such a lot of confidence is something amazing.
- SHAYAN ACHARYA