Outgoing captain Jayawardene confident of series win
Mahela Jayawardene has lauded the efforts of his seam bowlers in the ongoing ODI series, and is confident Sri Lanka can achieve a successive bilateral series win in Australia, having also won there in 2010. Sri Lanka have earned an unassailable position in the series, leading 2-1, with the final match to be played in Hobart on Wednesday.
The visitors looked likely to wrap up the series in game four in Sydney, but an hour's drizzle rendered playing conditions unfair, by the officials' reckoning, and that was deemed just cause for abandonment. Sri Lanka have gained the ascendancy in each of the last three ODIs through their bowlers, who have restricted Australia to 170, 74 and 222 for 9, primarily through skilful swing bowling.
Jayawardene praised his fast bowlers' exploitation of the two new balls in ODIs, as he cut a relaxed and assured figure ahead of his final match as captain of Sri Lanka. "Given the way we have played and how we've controlled things, the boys will be pretty happy and I'm pretty confident that we'll be able to close this series in Hobart," Jayawardene said. "The quality of the bowling has been pretty good. A lot of the batsmen in world cricket will struggle with the way our guys have delivered. With the two new balls, that's always going to happen going forward. That's something we've spoken about as well - how we're going to navigate the new rules. All over the world, you're trying to get wickets up front and it's vital that you bat well in the top four."
Nuwan Kulasekara has been the best of Sri Lanka's bowlers, having reaped 10 wickets at an average of 12.90 and an economy-rate of 3.30. His astonishing spell of inswing bowling consigned Australia to their third-worst ODI total ever in Brisbane, and he was again the best of Sri Lanka's bowlers in Sydney, taking 3 wickets for 30 from his 10 overs. But although he has been the series' most penetrative bowler, Kulasekara had gone wicketless in the Hobart Test match at the beginning of the tour. Jayawardene said Kulasekara's return to his favoured format likely sparked a resurgence in form.
"He had the control in the Test match, but not the success," Jayawardene said. "He had a two-week layoff with injury, but he's come back into the one-dayers very strongly with the white ball. He's got a lot of confidence with what he's doing with it. Both he and Lasith [Malinga] have a very good partnership for us, and I'm looking forward to how he's going to go about it in Hobart as well."
Sri Lanka view this series as a chance to build familiarity with Australian conditions in preparation for the 2015 World Cup, and Jayawardene was pleased with the results his side had been able to put together in their last three limited-overs series in the country. Sri Lanka followed up their 2010 series win with a finals appearance in the 2012 tri-series, and have beaten Australia 8-5 at home in that time.
Encouragingly for the visitors, it has largely been the younger players, who will likely feature in the 2015 World Cup, who have been the primary architects of their success. Dinesh Chandimal scored heavily in last year's tri-series, and also notched a 73 in his only innings in the ongoing one, while Lahiru Thirimanne made a maiden hundred at No. 3, to close out the second match in Adelaide. Angelo Mathews has also played some memorable innings in Australia, in addition to impressing with the ball, and even Kushal Perera has been assured with the bat and behind the stumps in his appearances so far.
"The last three or four tours that we've come here with the one-day squad, we've been pretty consistent," Jayawardene said. "We've played a lot of good cricket. That's something very positive for the team. The youngsters like Chandi, Thiri and Angelo have learnt a lot playing here. That's a great investment for the future."
Jayaywardene was also pleased at his side's mettle to come back from a poor Test series and a heavy defeat in the first ODI, to now be in a position where they cannot lose the series.
"I think the turnaround has been fantastic. The Test series was disappointing and we never played to our potential. In the one-dayers, we had new guys coming to a settled set-up, but the Melbourne game was disappointing. But the guys have shown determination and character over the last few one-dayers. Hopefully we can finish it on a very positive note."
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here