'We are not quite ready for the Australians'
After the defeat in the P Sara Test to New Zealand Graham Ford, the Sri Lanka coach, has said his team had to improve on their batting against pace ahead of the three-Test series in Australia, which starts December 14 in Hobart.
Sri Lanka have only a three-day warm-up match against a Chairman's XI at Canberra to put right their shortcomings ahead of the Test series.
"I was hoping that we would have a very good Test series against New Zealand which would be a fantastic way of preparing for the Australia series particularly as they have a useful seam outfit," Ford said.
"If we could pass the test against this seam bowling we would know we were in quite a good position to take on Australia. Unfortunately we didn't really pass the test with flying colours although there were quite a few batsmen that showed some decent form.
"I was hoping for a lot better than that but there were signs that we were starting to find our feet against pace, but what we are really gaining out of it (we had a chat about it as well) was that we now realise that we are not quite ready for the Australians. Once we get there the work that we do is going to be very intense. We are going to have to practise outside our comfort zone so that we are ready for what they are going to throw at us."
Ford blamed the poor performances of the batsmen in the New Zealand series on playing too much one-day cricket. "We just slipped off our Test match process when it comes to batting," said Ford. "It is part of international cricket these days having to switch from one format to the other we just had such a lot of instant cricket that Test match batting has been a long way away from their minds. In a very short space of time they had to try and switch that on and they didn't switch it on as well as we had hoped to.
"Quite a number of our batsmen, although we got a few Test match specialists, have played a huge amount of T20 and ODI cricket in recent times and the Test match process hasn't really been in their minds," Ford said.
"Even though we talk about it, the nervous energy takes over and suddenly the body reverts back to the one-day processes. Also this last Test having had long hours on the field, the mind sometimes plays a few tricks and you are not quite as mentally tough as you should be for Test match cricket. Hopefully we were able to learn from all of that and really start to gear ourselves for much bigger scores."
One of the reasons for the batting problems against New Zealand was the injury to senior opener Tillakaratne Dilshan. Ford expected a fully fit Dilshan to provide strong starts on the Australia tour for Sri Lanka's experienced middle-order. "Dilshan had this injury and came back with not a lot of practice. I am hoping that he is going to be back at his best. He knows the Australian conditions well, he knows the players and has such a great temperament. What I see from Dilshan is, the bigger the moment, the better he plays."
Ford had similarly high expectations of Kumar Sangakkara, who in the series against New Zealand averaged below 10 in a Test series for only the second time in his career. "Sanga didn't get a start which doesn't happen too often. Each time he misses out he is closer to a really big score. He got out in a freakish way in the second innings coming off the thigh pad and when he is playing well Sri Lanka tends to get big scores. You can build an innings around him."
Ford said the hallmark of a good team was to bounce back after a poor performance, something he hoped Sri Lanka would be able to do. "The best of teams do have some bad outings and the boys in the dressing room were very open and honest in saying that they know they are capable of a much better performance than they put in in the second Test. That's important that they accept that they can be better and need to do better. They know they can do better which is a sign of confidence, if we can put that all in place once we get there."
Sri Lanka have yet to win a Test in Australia and the current tour affords them the opportunity to erase that record. Ford believes Sri Lanka's best chance of beating Australia lies at Sydney, venue of the third and final Test.
"The one thing that we have chatted a bit about it is winning a Test in Australia. It's an enormous challenge and it's an exciting challenge. The focus of all the cricketing fans in the world is going to be on those Test matches, so it's a huge opportunity. That will serve us as a lot of motivation as well.
"Traditionally Sydney is the one that the spinners have played a big part. With spin being one of our strengths that's an opportunity. But our seam bowlers have worked very hard recently and are really trying to get their skills going. If there is a little bit of sideways movement on the surface at Hobart our seam bowlers could really have an impact on the game. History tells you that Sydney is the ground that we most likely would get a win.
"Coming off a loss to New Zealand at home where the seam bowlers caused problems it makes it look as if we are quite a long way away. Cricket is a funny game and if the boys are really up for the fight and they are able to tighten up a little bit in terms of a few aspects we know we have to work on, who knows what can be achieved.
"Australia are playing really good cricket, very dominant at the moment they have put up good performances in their home conditions. I hope our boys really get their teeth into it and make some history."