SLC issue 'not a distraction' - Jayawardene
Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene has defended his decision to send a letter to the press -- with perceived questionable comments on Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) -- but said that the fallout from the incident was not a distraction for his side ahead of the Boxing Day Test. SLC, in an official release, stated it will review the actions of Jayawardene and team manager Charith Senanayake, during the lead up to the Test in Melbourne.
Jayawardene's letter to the press, in which he said he had lost all confidence in dealing with SLC, had been prompted by a local newspaper's reporting on a previous letter he had written to the board. He had believed the letter to be confidential, and the contents of which, if released, could potentially embarrass the support staff working with the Sri Lankan team. In his subsequent release to the press, Jayawardene expressed his disappointment with the board for having allowed his letter to be made public, which, in turn, was believed to be a breach of his contract for portraying the board in a negative light.
"It's not really a distraction," Jayawardene said on the eve of the Test. "It's not the first time something like this has happened and I've just taken it on board. I honestly don't know what I've done in this scenario. The document was released by them, and I just asked the question, "How did that happen?" I think hopefully we can get that resolved pretty soon once they realise I haven't done anything wrong. Right now my focus is on this tour and to try and give my best for the team. I don't think most of the guys even know what's going on."
Sri Lanka are waiting on the fitness of Nuwan Kulasekara, who has been struggling with a bruised rib, with Dhammika Prasad on standby to step into the pace attack. Kulasekara was hit by a delivery that leapt up off a crack on the fifth day in Hobart, and has not yet shaken off the soreness from the blow. He has been bowling in the nets, but will have his fitness determined on the morning of the Test.
Opener Dimuth Karunaratne, meanwhile, is set for an extended run at the top of the order, despite having had an inauspicious start to the series in Hobart, scoring 14 and 30. Sri Lanka have a more experienced opener in Tharanga Paranavitana in the squad, but Jayawardene said the management had identified Karunaratne as a promising future prospect, and hope to give him opportunities free of the pressure of having to hold a place in the team. Karunaratne has played two Tests, and made a run-a-ball sixty against New Zealand last month. He was brought into the Test team after having had success in an A team tour to South Africa.
"When we made the call on Dimuth, we wanted to make it a long-term decision. Whatever happens, he will at least get a good year in that slot. I think he's shown a lot of promise as a Test opener. I think everyone's very pleased with the way he's been batting. It was unfortunate he got some good deliveries in the last Test. The way he bats gives us more opportunities. If he gets going, he's a very aggressive batsman and he'll score quickly for us. That will win Test matches, not just here, but in Sri Lankan conditions as well. That's something we are looking for him to do. He'll definitely get a longer run in the team."
Jayawardene also said a strong performance from the experienced top order would be Sri Lanka's best chance of securing a maiden victory in Australia. Sri Lanka slipped to 87 for 4 in their first innings in Hobart in one of the defining periods of the Test, which enabled Australia to secure a first innings lead of 114. Sri Lanka's top order had also failed to fire collectively in the two Tests preceding the tour, in a home series against New Zealand.
"A good performance from the top order will give us an opportunity to put pressure on the Australians, and our best chance of winning a Test match here would be our batters putting runs on the board. The top order has been our strength over the last couple of years when four or five guys have been getting the job done. Yes, we've had a couple of hiccups in the last few Test matches - in the last series against New Zealand and the one in Hobart. That can happen. You can't be consistent for that period of time. We've got the experience, and we've got the talent. We just need to produce the goods."
Jayawardene was also confident his team would not be affected by any crowd hostility stemming from the ball tampering controversy in Hobart. Sri Lanka's management had alerted the match referee to footage they believed might have shown Peter Siddle picking the seam of the ball during their first innings, but had stopped short of making an official complaint. Siddle, a Victorian, was cleared of any wrongdoing by the ICC after the conclusion of the match.
"I think we've been through a lot of hostile things in the past. 1995 was one thing, and even after that. I don't think it will faze our guys at all. If anything that might give us a little extra. What you have to remember is that there will be a good, partisan Sri Lankan crowd in Melbourne as well, so it might go against them (Australia) as well. A lot of the younger guys probably won't even understand what the crowd is going to tell them. It's not going to be a big issue."
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent