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March 19, 2004
Sanath Jayasuriya, whose sparkling 131 put Sri Lanka on course for one of the unlikeliest of Test victories, insisted that they could still pull it off, though they were down to the tail. Speaking at the end of the day's play, he said, "We still have a good chance of winning this game. Vaasy [Chaminda Vaas] is batting well with Loku [Kaushal Lokuarachchi], and we are in a great position now to win this game."
He insisted that confidence was high despite Australia having fought back strongly in the final session. "We are very confident in the dressing-room because Vaas, Loku and [Nuwan] Zoysa can all bat and the wicket is still very good," he said. "We have just got to get through the first hour tomorrow."
After his failures in the series, many had doubted whether Jayasuriya could continue to hack it at the highest level. He replied in trademark fashion, with a fusillade of punishing strokes that pushed Australia onto the back foot. "I went through a bad patch during the one-day series, and today, I just wanted to occupy the crease and play straight during the first half-hour and see how it goes," he said. "After that, I just played my natural game, and I thought it was one of my best innings."
Jayasuriya said that he was deliberately aggressive, in a bid to derail Australia's strategy: "When you settle and play positive cricket, they also have to change their plan and be defensive, which is what I want."
John Buchanan, Australia's coach, reckoned that the opening phase of play on Saturday would effectively decide the outcome. "It will depend on the first half-hour tomorrow," he said. "If we are able to knock one over early, we can create a sense of difficulty out there in their dressing-room. Conversely, if they put a few boundaries away, it makes the bowlers a little bit more conscious."
Vaas belted 68 in the first innings, and was unbeaten on 30 at stumps on the fourth day. Buchanan said: "I think he has played exceptionally well, and has chosen the right balls to hit but we are still confident of getting him out at this stage."
He admitted that dismissing Jayasuriya had given his bowlers a big lift. "It was lovely to see the back of him - but we knew there was a lot more work to be done," he said. "[Tillakaratne] Dilshan accelerated quickly and found a good ally in Vaas."
The last word should go to Jayasuriya, who emerged from a horror patch to inspire a remarkable comeback. "When you are not getting runs, the confidence falls and I went through that, which is difficult because expectations are always high," he said. The expectations will be through the roof tomorrow, especially if Muttiah Muralitharan - the local hero - has to walk out to bat, with a boundary or two needed for victory.
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