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October 4, 2012
Mahela Jayawardene has led Sri Lanka into the fourth major limited-overs final of his career - now all he has to do is win one. He calls himself "blessed," and he is, but he knows that only victory in Colombo on Sunday will silence complaints that Sri Lanka always fail at the final hurdle.
Sri Lanka had to battle for their 16-run win against Pakistan after setting them a target of 140, which was distinctly vulnerable even on a slow, turning pitch at the Premadasa Stadium. The manner in which they did it deepened Jayawardene's faith that this time their experience in the final will be different.
Kumar Sangakkara, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Lasith Malinga have all joined their captain in suffering defeat in three previous finals, the worst of them coming last year when Sri Lanka were routed by India in the 2011 World Cup final in Mumbai, following defeats against Australia in Barbados in the 2007 World Cup, and a World Twenty20 loss against Pakistan at Lord's in 2009.
There was no time for Jayawardene to savour victory against Pakistan before he had to make light of talk of rising tension. "We are all really happy to be part of a very successful group over a period of time," he said. "We have been blessed with four now - although I know we haven't won anything. But four finals, it's amazing. In one's career you are lucky enough to play in one final.
"They have all had to be approached in different ways. One final was in Barbados, one in England, one was in Mumbai. Now we are playing in Premadasa, so we will approach it differently.
"I think experience-wise we are much better: Angelo Mathews, Ajantha Mendis were all pretty new when we lost against Pakistan and we have played a lot of Twenty20 since then. We play with a very positive mindset. We spoke at the start of the tournament that we would have to play on three different surfaces in Hambantota, Pallakele and now Colombo. We had to adapt. It is about handling tough situations better."
Jayawardene tonight was a captain who actually captained. There were none of the high jinks that entailed in the final Super Eights game against England in Pallakele he officially handed the captaincy to Sangakkara, so as to protect himself from a potential suspension for a second transgression for slow overrates, but then ran the show unofficially much as he always would.
The likelihood is that the authorities - Sri Lanka Cricket, the ICC or most probably a bit of both - let it be known that further mischief would be frowned upon. That is the thing about a good trick - it is best not repeated.
Mohammad Hafeez, Pakistan's captain, felt around 150 was par on this pitch and repeatedly blamed his team's defeat on a middle-order collapse. Jayawardene, by contrast, felt 140 was around par - "a score where we could challenge." "The way we started, we probably fell short by about 15 or 20 runs, but Umar Gul bowled well and pulled us back.
"Pakistan brought in an extra bowler so we had to adjust ourselves up front. Sohail Tanvir usually picks up wickets for them so we changed our game plan and tried to hold out for six overs and then we knew we could attack their spinners. Today it worked for us. Sometimes you may lose calls and it doesn't work, but I think our situation has been pretty good in this tournament.
"Chasing down runs is always going to be a tough call in a semi-final. Hafeez batted really well and guided them through the first 10 or so overs, but we knew they were a batter short today and we kept pressure on them.''
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