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December 16, 2008
Mahela Jayawardene has said the greatest challenge facing Sri Lanka in Bangladesh is to try to adjust to the conditions and the pitches as quickly as possible.
"The home team will always try to make use of home advantage - the conditions, the pitches and spectator support," said Jayawardene. "The challenge facing any touring side is to try to adjust to them as quickly as possible and get an early advantage over the home side."
Sri Lanka failed to do that on their tour to Zimbabwe last month, where their batting was not wholly convincing despite a 5-0 series sweep. Mahela Udawatte and Upul Tharanga, the preferred openers, both averaged below 20, Jayawardene scored 19 runs in four innings, and Chamara Kapugedera, long regarded as a player with immense potential, again disappointed.
What Sri Lanka needed to do now, felt Jayawardene, was not put too much pressure on themselves. "Initially the first Test in Bangladesh is going to be a tough one. We need to set ourselves a standard which we want to maintain throughout the series," he said. "The expectations to win are going to be the same for us whoever we play … everybody expects us to win."
Sri Lanka have toured Bangladesh only once before, in 2006. Though they won the Tests 2-0 and the ODIs 2-1, they underwent some anxious moments during the Tests. This time around, they go into the series without having played a Test since August 11. Since then they played a Twenty20 tournament in Canada, which featured Pakistan and Zimbabwe, and the ODI series in Zimbabwe.
"That is the challenge international cricketer's face today," Jayawardene said. "You just have to make the necessary adjustments to suit the type of game you have to play. It's a good challenge to have as cricketers. It will assess a lot of things like your character and integrity."
He said regardless of the quality of the opposition, Sri Lanka needed to improve their own standards. "Once we realise where we are right now we don't want to drop our standards. That's where the motivation comes."
Ajantha Mendis has been ruled out of the Tests, but has apparently shown remarkable improvement. Ranjith Nananayakarawasam, the team physio, said that Mendis - who suffered severe soft tissue damage on his right ankle - had responded well to treatment and there was a possibility that he could be fit to play in the second Test starting in Chittagong on January 3.
Sri Lanka Cricket sources stated that the team was keen to take Mendis along as an additional player so that he could continue his treatment. The final decision lies with the SCL's interim committee, who will have to bear the extra expenses.
Regardless of Mendis' recovery, Jayawardene said that it is not individuals that win matches, but the team. "Ajantha's been a brilliant cricketer and a match-winner for us. His loss will definitely be felt, but at the same time I don't think it will affect us a lot. In Ajantha's absence we have to play a different combination and a different game. In the past we had [Muttiah] Muralitharan injured for some time and we have somehow managed without him. Ajantha's absence affords another bowler to step in."
Jayawardene denied this would put extra pressure on Murali. "He has about 16 years of cricket behind him and he knows what is expected of him. Murali and [Chaminda] Vaas have been doing the job for us for the last 10 years or so. Ajantha came in and took a little bit of pressure from these two guys. They are seasoned campaigners and I am sure they can handle whatever is thrown in their way."
On his own form, Jayawardene felt he was "headed in the right direction". "I was quite happy with the knock of 65 I got against good opposition like NCC [in the Premier League Tournament]," he said. "I spent a lot of time in the middle in match situations which gives back your confidence. I know exactly what I need to do to regain my form."
Sri Lanka start their tour with a three-day warm-up game at Savar on Sunday before moving into the Test series on Boxing Day.
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