Abuoyant Chamari Athapaththu says she feels little tension ahead of the opening T20 World Cup 2023 fixture against hosts South Africa.
Fronting the press on her birthday, the now 33-year-old was in good spirits, reiterating that any butterflies around the match-up and the potential capacity crowd will mostly be felt in the stomachs of their opponents.
“I told (the team) don’t take any pressure on your shoulders. (It’s) just a game.
“I know we are playing in South African conditions and I expect a lot of South African spectators. I know there’s some kind of pressure from our side and South Africa as well because they are playing in their home conditions.
“(There is) some big pressure for South Africa. I just want to play positive cricket freely. That’s what I told my team.”
South Africa and Sri Lanka will get the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup 2023 underway.
Athapaththu is no stranger to South Africa, having toured the country on several occasions, last visiting Cape Town on Sri Lanka’s 2019 tour.
Compiling over 2000 runs in a glittering 106-match career, Athapaththu sits 13th in the T20I runs list for women in the format. And having now led her team out on 60 occasions, Athapaththu now overlooks a young yet talented group.
With several U19 T20 World Cup representatives, the veteran wants their exuberance of youth to shine through.
“This is a really good opportunity for my youngsters, and I just told my youngsters to play freely.
“This is one game, one ball at a time. In this format, anything can happen. Just a minute, just a second.
“We don’t feel any pressure, because we all know South Africa has a lot of experienced players. They play a lot of cricket all around the world, especially franchise cricket, they play a lot of cricket.”
Athapaththu is still undoubtedly the heartbeat of the Sri Lankan team, though there is a sense from the outside that the team’s results do not solely hinge on the individual’s output like in times of old.
Opener Harshitha Samarawickrama, who posted a warm-up fifty in her late preparation for the tournament, has stood up for her country particularly over the last six months, while the ceiling is high for U19 World Cup hero Vishmi Gunaratne, who already boasts 11 senior national appearances at just 17 years of age.
Athapaththu knows the buck stops with her, but feels all the help in the batting group, added by the ever-improving Nilakshi de Silva and Anushka Sanjeewani.
“Harshitha and Vishmi are playing well.
“And Nilakshi and Anushka, they have performed well. So now I feel free because I can just play my free game because I don’t have any pressure for tomorrow and in this tournament. I just play my natural game. There are a lot of good players and I have a lot of confidence in them.
“We have a few senior players and a lot of youngsters, but I will trust myself.
“(But) not only me, but my team, and they have good potential, and they are very skillful players.
“If they are playing their best I know we can beat any team.”