Lanka to tour New Zealand next November 1, 2006

'Our problem was our top-order batting' - Jayawardene

Malinga Bandara, Jayawardene said, wasn't picked because of the heavy dew and pitch conditions did not favour a two-spinners strategy © AFP

Mahela Jayawardene, the Sri Lanka captain, has defended the team management's selection during the Champions Trophy and blamed Sri Lanka's early exit from the tournament on the top-order batsmen. Expectations had been high in Sri Lanka after the team's recent good form and the shock knockout before the semi-finals has triggered heavy criticism from some quarters.

"I don't believe the make-up of the bowling attack was the issue. Our problem was our top-order batting against South Africa's new-ball bowlers," Jayawardene told reporters. "We also knew it would be tough for about 10-15 overs but would then become much easier for the batters. But we lost too many wickets too early.

"Against top teams you cannot make so many mistakes and win," he said, adding that there was no point searching for excuses. "It was our fault that we lost and we have to accept that. As individuals within a team, we have to put our hands up and take responsibility for our own actions."

The most contentious issues raised by the local media were the non-selection of Malinga Bandara, Sri Lanka's second specialist spinner, in favour of a four-pronged pace attack and the decision to bowl first against South Africa. Others have argued that a seventh batsman, Chamara Kapugedera, should have been used to bolster the middle order.

"Malinga is definitely the number two spinner in Sri Lanka but he was unlucky that the heavy dew at night prevented us from playing three spinners, a tactic we often use in Asia," said Jayawardene. "We toyed with playing him against New Zealand in Mumbai, which had less of a dew problem, but in Ahmedabad [against South Africa] it was too risky to go into the match with only three fast bowlers in case we lost the toss." Jayawardene stated the same reason for not going in with seven batsmen in the game. "Other teams followed similar strategies with Australia not even playing a specialist slow bowler and New Zealand dropping their second spinners," he said.

"People don't understand just how serious the dew problem was during some nights. The ball was very slippery and that makes it extremely difficult for the bowlers. We practiced of course, using a wet ball in the nets, but it's not easy. Both Murali [Muttiah Muralitharan] and Sanath [Jayasuriya] were struggling to control the wet ball and Malinga would have found it even tougher as a wrist spinner."

Sri Lanka's cricketers will now play domestic cricket for three weeks before departing for New Zealand at the end of the month. "We have to learn from this Champions Trophy and move forward," said Jayawardene.

Charlie Austin is Cricinfo's Sri Lankan correspondent