Jayawardene: 'We had nothing to lose'
Mahela Jayawardene admitted that his team's achievement was beginning to sink in, as he reflected on their remarkable backs-to-the-wall draw in the first Test against England at Lord's.
Speaking at a reception for the Sri Lankan squad in central London, Jayawardene praised his side's fighting qualities, and said that the confidence they had gained from batting continuously for the final two-and-a-half days of the match would stand them in good stead for the remainder of the series.
"When you think where we were and what we pulled off, it's an amazing achievement," said Jayawardene, who led the rearguard with a brilliantly adhesive 119. "We didn't think about the result, we just batted for time to see what we could achieve, and it's amazing to see how far that took us."
After two days of the Test, nobody could have envisaged the turnaround that was about to happen. Sri Lanka had slumped to 91 for 6 in reply to England's 551 for 6 declared, and eventually followed on a massive 359 runs in arrears. But, with England dropping nine catches in the course of the match, Sri Lanka managed to close on 537 for 9 in their second innings, having stretched their performance over 199 overs.
"After the first innings we had nothing to lose and everything to gain," said Jayawardene. "We knew the potential in the team, and I personally had a lot of belief in our guys. It was a big occasion for them, with many of them playing at Lord's for the first time, and I think they never had a chance in the first innings. Second-time around, they just went out there and relaxed."
Jayawardene himself had no qualms about playing at Lord's, as he rattled up his second century in consecutive visits, to join an exclusive club of nine overseas batsman with more than one notch on the dressing-room honours board.
"It's a pretty good club," he admitted. "I didn't realise until after the game how few people had done that. I'm not a guy who goes for records, but it's something special for a Test cricketer to have his name on that board. It means you will always be remembered, and to do it twice is the icing on the cake."
Tom Moody, Sri Lanka's coach, was equally impressed with the resolve his players had shown over the final three days of the match. "I'm sure their smiles will get bigger and bigger as the days go by," he said, "as they realise what they've achieved.
"Cricket is all about momentum," he added. "We didn't have the momentum on the first two days, but we showed a lot of character and guts, got themselves back into the game slightly, and then grew in confidence to take the momentum off England. And when that happens luck tends to go your way."
Moody admitted that England's failure to take nine of the catches that came their way was a big factor in the great escape, but didn't think that would overshadow his team's achievement. "England were hot favourites in this match, so the purists will know what Sri Lanka's players achieved. It was a tremendous effort, and a great positive for the series, for both teams and spectators.
"You don't go into a two-horse race thinking you're going to come second," he added. "We are in it to try and win it. Realistically we are looking at England very much as favourites, but what's important is how we apply ourselves over five days. We only played for three days at Lord's."
And such is the confidence that the Sri Lankans have taken from the first Test that Sanath Jayasuriya, whose late addition to the squad caused such controversy last week, has been overlooked for the four-day tour match against Sussex at Hove, which starts on Thursday and is unlikely therefore to play in the second Test at Edgbaston next week.
"Either we throw him in, or we get behind the young guys who fought us into a terrific position at Lord's," said Moody. "It's all about what's best for the team. But on the field or off the field, Sanath is going to be an important member of the squad, and will hopefully contribute towards the success of the series.
But Moody did not entirely rule out an appearance in the Tests for Jayasuriya. "Over the last ten years we've seen what he's capable of doing. Like Adam Gilchrist, he's the type of player who can take a game away from you, and he can destroy any attack in the world. England will be aware of that, and if a catch goes in the air off his bat, they'll want to make sure they hold onto it."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo