Jayawardene upbeat despite Murali loss
Sri Lanka's captain, Mahela Jayawardene, has backed his side to overcome the loss of their star spinner, Muttiah Muralitharan, who will miss the last three matches of the NatWest Series after flying back to Chennai to attend to a family illness.
Murali was instrumental in Sri Lanka's unexpected share of the recent Test series, taking taking 24 wickets at 16.87 apiece, including 8 for 70 in the decisive second innings at Trent Bridge. But his young son has had to undergo an operation for a stomach complaint, and after leaving the team hotel last night, he caught a flight to India this morning.
"Murali got the news on Thursday afternoon and in the night they decided they were going to do the operation," Jayawardene explained to reporters at Chester-le-Street, ahead of tomorrow's third one-day international. "He had already made plans to leave and took an early morning flight.
"The operation went well," Jayawardene added. "It was something to do with the stomach I think, and the small one is in the hospital for observation for a couple of days. Murali did the right thing by going. There are certain things which are more important than cricket and we wish everybody well."
In Murali's absence, Sri Lanka are set to turn to the legspinner, Malinga Bandara, for tomorrow's match. Bandara took 45 first-class wickets in only eight matches for Gloucestershire last summer, and was a member of the side that reached the final of the VB Series in Australia last winter.
"Malinga has been waiting for this opportunity for a long time," added Jayawardene. "He did pretty well in Australia. When we had the Supersub role we used him every match and he bowled brilliantly alongside Murali. Obviously, he's a senior member of the team and we'll miss him but it creates an opportunity for another young guy to come in."
Murali had been unusually quiet during Sri Lanka's first two victories of the series, taking just two wickets in all, less than his fellow spinner, Sanath Jayasuriya, managed in his Man-of-the-Match performance at The Oval. But Paul Collingwood, one of England's few successes in the limited-overs series, was adamant that he would be missed by the Sri Lankans.
"It's a big loss for them," said Collingwood. "I don't think their win ratio is as good without him but we have to concentrate on upping our game by 15-20 percent." But he admitted that Jayasuriya would remain a threat even in the absence of his spin partner. "He's a different customer altogether because he's a batsman who knows exactly what a batsman might do to a bowler."
Dilhara Fernando, who limped out of the second match at The Oval with an ankle injury, is still a doubt for the match, although he was expected to undergo another fitness test today. Ruchira Perera is set to retain his place if Fernando is unfit.