Dav Whatmore: Great to win but sterner tests lie ahead
Recent Test form had been putting the team under pressure; so this was a very satisfying series win. We gathered our thoughts and reflected after the disappointing loss in Kandy, before responding magnificently in the final Test in Colombo. It was a fine team performance that will give us great confidence for the future.
The star of the show, of course, was Muttiah Muralitharan. What an out-an-out champion he is. There were no demons in the wicket throughout the match; it was easy paced, consistent in bounce, and offered very little in the way of lateral movement. Murali, however, beat them in the air and off the pitch during a marathon five-hour spell. It was an incredible feat of skill, fitness, concentration and determination.
Murali's attitude throughout the three-match tour has been highly impressive. We have set out to play on new types of surfaces that offer fast bowlers greater assistance and none of the pitches deteriorated into the dustbowls that we have become used to at home in the recent past. Murali, however, who stands to gain most from crumbling surfaces, has not complained. In fact, he has thrown his support behind the move, which just shows that he has the team at his heart.
When we batted, we placed a higher price on our wickets than we had done in Kandy. Four batsmen capitalised on good starts to score centuries and that is crucial. We will not win consistently if the batsmen throw away their wickets after making good starts - 30's and 40's are not good enough, we need big scores. Hopefully, we have learnt from the second Test and realised that we have to be tougher when we bat, especially in tight situations in the second innings.
The innings of Marvan (Atapattu) and Mahela (Jayawardene) were classy innings and it was a terrific achievement for Mahela to score hundreds in consecutive Test matches, but I would like to single out Hashan (Tillakaratne) and Thilan (Samaraweera) for special praise.
Hashan had been under tremendous personal pressure after failing to click in the first two games - he did though bat for nearly three hours in Kandy, which shows just the kind of grit and determination that we have been looking for. He must have been having sleepless nights before that innings, but he soaked up all the pressure and played some excellent strokes after he had played himself in. To respond with an unbeaten century, his highest ever score for Sri Lanka, speaks volumes for his mental strength. He is extremely fit too so, although he is 34-years-old, lets hope that he can keep delivering for the next couple of years.
Thilan has always been a workmanlike cricketer. He had forced his way into the side with the sheer weight of performances with the A team and in domestic cricket. At every level in which he has played he has made the most of his opportunity and did that again in his first Test match. When he first went out to bat with Hashan, we were expecting him to just play a supportive role, which he did do for the first part of his innings, but after tea he played like a top order batsmen and reeled off some exceptional shots. He may not have bowled many overs in the game, but he picked up the key wicket of Ganguly to round off a perfect debut.
Having established a lead of 376 India were left with over two days to bat. Although the wicket offered our bowlers even less assistance than in the first innings, we were always confident of winning, even after they started so well, adding 107 for the first wicket. We just had to keep plugging away and the bowlers did just that, maintaining a good line and length, which put them under pressure and eventually led to those four wickets at the end of day four.
We have won a Test series for the first time since we beat Pakistan in March 2000, but we will not be getting carried away. Sterner tests lie ahead. We have the West Indies here in November and we are off to England, South Africa and Australia next year. These will be difficult tours and success will be dependent upon us continuing to grow and develop as a team. We are, though, moving in the right direction.
Indeed, one of the most pleasing aspects of this victory is that it was achieved on good cricket wickets. Murali dominated the game in Colombo, but the other bowlers all contributed, particularly Dilhara (Fernando) in Galle and Chaminda (Vaas) in Kandy. To win consistently abroad we need them to continue supporting Murali and do that we have to get used to this new system. If we hadn't started practicing now then winning in May next year against England would be very difficult indeed