The 30-year-old left-hand top-order batter also lavished praise on new Punjab Kings captain Mayank Agarwal, who he feels is calm and collected.
Punjab Kings started their IPL 2022 campaign with a bang, chasing a mammoth 206-run target, set by the Royal Challengers Bangalore, in style.
📸 | Riding into practice one last time ahead of #KKRvPBKS 💪#SaddaPunjab #KKRvPBKS #IPL2022 #PunjabKings… https://t.co/rLbBHcpOkW
— Punjab Kings (@PunjabKingsIPL) 1648800471000
Rajapaksa, who came in to bat at number 3 after Agarwal and Shikhar Dhawan laid a solid foundation for his team, stitching a 71-run stand for the first wicket and scoring a match-winning 43 off 22 balls on his IPL debut. With the first-choice wicket-keeper batsman Jonny Bairstow yet to join the squad, the Sri Lankan blasted 2 fours and 4 sixes in his 22-ball 44 runs knock. Punjab Kings chased down the target with 1 over to spare.
WE. ARE. IN. FOR. A. RIDE. 😍#SaddaPunjab #KKRvPBKS #IPL2022 #PunjabKings #ਸਾਡਾਪੰਜਾਬ @mayankcricket… https://t.co/Ia1xNQDXMg
— Punjab Kings (@PunjabKingsIPL) 1648785600000
Rajapaksa also feels the Punjab team has got the firepower to win their maiden IPL title this season. Punjab Kings had a big chance to lift their maiden trophy in 2014, but the George Bailey-led side lost to Gautam Gambhir’s KKR by 3 wickets in the summit clash in Bengaluru.
Flick-er Dhawan 🏏#SaddaPunjab #KKRvPBKS #IPL2022 #PunjabKings #ਸਾਡਾਪੰਜਾਬ @SDhawan25 https://t.co/zF8Z3pcwLt
— Punjab Kings (@PunjabKingsIPL) 1648792801000
Ahead of Punjab Kings’ second match of IPL 2022 vs KKR, TimesofIndia.com caught up with Rajapaksa to talk about Punjab’s winning start, Agarwal the captain, Agarwal-Shikhar the opening partners, the team’s title chances this year, his decision to reverse his international retirement decision and more.
Punjab Kings’ next match is against KKR. What have you talked about in terms of continuing the winning momentum?
It’s a T20 game and it is quite tricky. On his day, any player can change the game. We don’t want to focus on a particular player, as a team, we just want to play the way we are playing at the moment. We are training well and doing well. We just want to keep that momentum going and give our hundred percent. We have certain plans and hopefully, we will execute those in the KKR match.
What were Punjab Kings’ plans after RCB posted a mammoth 205 on the board? What did Mayank Agarwal say to the team after coming back to the dressing room (ahead of the chase)?
We wanted to keep it very simple. We didn’t want to complicate this big run chase. It is always tricky when you chase a target like 205. The good thing was Mayank was calm and composed and he gave us confidence that we can do it. He was all about action more than words, that is what he always emphasises on. We were happy that our actions spoke much louder than words.
Mayank and Shikhar built a solid foundation and then you put on a brilliant stand with Shikhar. What was the coordination with Shikhar like in the middle? What did Shikhar tell you?
It is always important to get a good start. It helps in carrying on the momentum. The credit should go to Mayank and Shikhar because the wicket was not that easy at the start. It was quite sticky in the initial overs and it was difficult to bat. The way Shikhar and Mayank laid the foundation was just amazing. When I went to bat (at No. 3), Shikhar asked me to keep calm. He has got a calm head. He just told me to be there and score runs. I just wanted to go to the middle and show what I could do. I am very happy to be able to score runs for my team.
Shikhar Dhawan and Mayank Agarwal (Image credit: BCCI/IPL)
Do you think Mayank and Shikhar are the best opening pair in this IPL? What is your take on Mayank the batsman and Mayank the captain?
This is the world’s best tournament. I would definitely say that Shikhar and Mayank are the best opening partners. As a captain, Mayank is very enthusiastic. He knows how to use his players on the field. He is an amazing captain. I have played with Mayank during my Under-19 days. I know him. I have seen his good and bad days as well. As a captain, his coordination with the boys is amazing. He is doing a good job as captain at the moment.
How would you rate Punjab Kings’ title chances this time?
This season is very important for us. Punjab Kings have never won a title. This is the best platform and this is the best opportunity. The fundamentals are done right and we have some targets set. We have a really good opportunity to lift the title this time. We have got a strong team. Punjab Kings are special this year because of the firepower they have. I can see something special happening this time. We have a big chance of lifting the trophy this year.
Shahrukh Khan played some match-winning knocks for Punjab Kings last season and he is continuing to do so. What was your interaction with Shahrukh like?
Shahrukh and I are good friends. IPL has brought us together. Shahrukh has a calm head. He is a sort of a finisher with Odean that we are looking at. He delivered when we were in need. I don’t want to compare him with anyone. He should be called the Shahrukh Khan of cricket. That’s all. He has delivered for Punjab Kings and will continue to do so. I am sure he will be an asset to India in the future.
Shahrukh Khan (BCCI/IPL Photo)
Does Odean Smith remind you of Chris Gayle in some ways?
We have nicknamed him ‘Baby Rhino’. He is so powerful. I don’t think he has still found the middle of his bat. Imagine what it would be like if he finds the middle of his bat. He can send the ball miles. We can’t compare him to Chris Gayle. Because Chris is such a legend in T20s and One-Dayers. He has scored a lot of runs and done so much for the country. I have seen Odean Smith grow as a cricketer. I have played against him too. It is so nice to see him adapting and performing when the team needs him.
Who do you admire as a cricketer the most and why?
I really admire Mike Hussey. He is my inspiration. I have always followed him and looked up to him. Whenever I get the chance, I always speak to him. Last time, when I toured Australia, I had a long chat with him. He is someone I follow and admire.
You announced your international retirement at the age of 30 earlier this year and then made a comeback. Talk to us about that…
It is a bit controversial to speak the truth. First, I had some family commitments because, in Sri Lanka, the fitness rules are really really strict. For me, I wanted to play cricket rather than focusing more on fitness. Because I thought I am 30 and it is a good time to focus on my cricketing career. I performed well in the World Cup and I performed well in the leagues, I performed well for my country. It was a bit difficult for me to meet those fitness standards. That is why I gave my resignation, without any bad intentions. I just wanted to improve on my skills. The fitness standards are very high in Sri Lankan cricket. That is why I put in my resignation. After speaking with Mahela Jayawardene, the technical committee and the sports minister, I reversed my decision. They emphasised the fact that I could still give something back to the country. Fitness is very important. For me, skills come first and then fitness.