England v Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Lord's, 5th day May 15, 2006

Jayawardene proves his critics wrong

Mahela Jayawardene inspired a fighting performance from his team © Getty Images

Sri Lanka's captain, Mahela Jayawardene, praised the performance of his young team and said that their efforts ranked up there with the best, as the first Test at Lord's was saved through a brilliant rearguard action.

Having followed on a whopping 359 runs in arrears, Sri Lanka ground their way through 199 overs on the final two-and-a-half days before bad light brought their epic innings to an end on 537 for 9. No fewer than seven batsmen recorded fifty in the innings, and after slumping to 91 for 6 in the first innings, Jayawardene was thrilled with the fight they had shown.

"It was a brilliant effort which showed a lot of character from top to bottom," he said, after being named as Man of the Match for his twin scores of 61 and 119. "It will have given a lot of confidence to the youngsters, and that's what they need, belief that they can do it at this level of cricket, because most of them haven't achieved anything in their careers yet."

The effort will also have given Jayawardene a lot of belief. Since assuming a senior role in the side, he has endured criticism of his leadership skills, and still remains as the official vice-captain on this tour, in the absence of the injured Marvan Atapattu. But he was able to answer the doubters by leading from the front and watching his charges take inspiration from his resistance.

"In the past when I've been given responsibility, people have said how difficult it is for me to concentrate on my batting at the highest level," he said. "I think I've proved people wrong. It's how I go out there and perform that matters. It's all to do with team efforts."

Jayawardene admitted that the thought had crossed his mind to declare once they had established a lead of 140-150, but added that good sense had prevailed, given the placid nature of the wicket. Even so, had England managed to take that final wicket and set themselves up for a run-chase, his side were ready and waiting for the challenge.

"If we had been put in that situation we would definitely have gone for it," said Jayawardene. "It was really flat out there but with three or four wickets we would have had a chance. It was all about the effort we had put in, and we couldn't have let it go like that."

Jayawardene insisted that the spate of dropped catches shouldn't detract from his team's achievement, but he did recognise Sri Lanka had issues to address. "We'll need to show the same determination in our bowling," he said, "and we might have to look at different combinations when we get to Edgbaston. We have to get England out twice to win Test matches, and we only got five wickets. Those are the areas we have to improve."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo