July 30, 2008

Express yourself

Sri Lanka's success in recent times has hinged on how they have encouraged players to be themselves

If one don't get you, the other will: Murali now has a spinner for a partner and it is good to see © AFP

I know Mahela Jayawardene called the last match "the perfect Test", but there is always room for any side to get better. And that's where you have to start: whatever stage you are at in your career or in a series, you can always get better. There are always loose ends that need tidying up. And that's what Sri Lanka have been trying to do. Not to be perfect, because that's impossible, but to be excellent: as good as we possibly can be on the field. If we can do that for five consecutive days, more often than not we will walk away with victory.

Ajantha Mendis' success at the SSC is an indication of where we're headed. When you bowl or bat it is always in partnerships. Muttiah Muralitharan had Chaminda Vaas all these years, and it's great to see that he now has a spinning partner. We have had Rangana Herath in the past, who has been brilliant, but now in Ajantha we have someone who is accurate and yet has so much variation that batsmen are under as much pressure against him as they are against Murali.

Because they are watching the variation and looking out for it, sometimes playing the ball becomes secondary. That has worked in our favour. If we have those two bowling in tandem, applying pressure, cutting the runs down, bowling the good balls in the right areas, they will get wickets and Sri Lanka will be in situations from where Tests can be dominated. That's exactly what we are asking of them, and they've been great in answering the call. Let's hope that they keep doing just that in the next Test and the next and so on.

Ajantha's improvement in the next few years will depend on how successful he is in thinking the way a batsman does when facing him. When he bowls he will have to think how batsmen will come at him, what plans they have to try and counteract him. When he has that, plus the positive intent and a good work ethic, he will be difficult to face.

The first year is going to be easy for him, but the more he plays, the harder he will find it. He'll have to come up with new things, and hopefully we will have an environment that will foster that kind of growth and thinking. That's what Sri Lanka work hard at. To make sure everyone fits in where he wants to, so he can give his best.

In India's case at the SSC, it was clearly not about technique. It usually is not. Just look at the quality and depth they have as a team. It was just excellent bowling backed up by very good fielding that put the pressure on.

Also, we had another bowler at the other end who dried up the runs. That pressure builds up, and you only have to make one mistake as a batsman. You might be the best player in the world, but it only takes one good delivery. It doesn't matter what record you have if questions are being asked continually from both ends. We had two bowlers from either side making it tough almost every single delivery. Some batsmen can counterattack successfully for a while, but sustaining that is very tough.

One of the good things about our dressing room is that everyone's opinion has equal weight, irrespective of whether you've played 100 Tests or one. We appreciate individuality, and that's been the best thing to have happened to Sri Lanka in the past few years. People understand that who they are is very important in a team environment. If someone comes into the side and becomes just another player, one among the many, it doesn't do anything for us. For them to remain who they are as individuals as well as develop their cricket - that is what our team is all about. We have had great examples in Murali, Vaas, and Sanath Jayasuriya.

The key to Ajantha and his improvement in the next few years will be how successful he is in thinking the way a batsman does when facing him. The first year is going to be easy for him, but the more he plays, the harder he will find it

Take someone more recent, like Lasith Malinga: everything about his personality, even his hair, is great for us. It gives us new energy and vibrancy, and that is so positive. So are players like Chamara Kapugedera. Just having the likes of him and Chamara Silva keeps competition alive and makes others hungry.

So far, well and good, but to go to the next step Sri Lanka need to play more Test matches. We played just eight last year, compared to some other teams who played 12 or 14. That is not enough; we are hungry for more. My personal opinion is that Test cricket is the ultimate because it tests you the most. It has so many variations and depth. We have batsmen who are not getting an opportunity to try and go for records because we play less Test cricket than other teams. That's sad.

You have rivalries such as the traditional Ashes, or India against Pakistan, or more recently India versus Australia. I would love to see Sri Lanka being included in such battles. It comes down to the men who matter sitting down and strategising about how to give Sri Lanka more Tests, but crucially it is up to the players to bring in that flair, that charisma, that will turn Sri Lanka versus India, for example, into a marquee event. We all play cricket, but it's our job as sportsmen to give it our best, to make people want to come and watch us. For that, Sri Lanka definitely need to play more Tests.

The recent innuendo about next year's tour to England hasn't affected the team in any way. It is sad that such an issue cropped up in the middle of an intense series, but we have just got to focus on the cricket and on winning the next match.

Looking to Galle, we're upbeat. Everything is in order. Personally, I would like some runs! Most of the time between Tests has gone in looking after day-to-day stuff - domestic responsibilities, mainly, as well as catching up with friends and relatives after our success in Colombo. You can bet that the other players have spent time catching up on world sport. We've got a bunch of fanatics in the dressing room. Cricket, football, rugby, tennis, F1 - you name it, they'll be watching it. The bottom line is: we're all sportsmen and it's our passion. You can't get it out of us.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Atul on July 31, 2008, 10:22 GMT

    Thank Mr. Sangakkara for such another well-written, balanced article. I'm sure you could turn to sports writing on a full-time basis at any point. I would love to see more people of the likes of Ajantha Mendis and the others you describe coming into international cricket.

    It is one of the more unique elements in cricket that other sports just don't have, the promotion of individual technique that can allow you to prosper, not hinder you. Even as an Indian cricket fan had no anger at Sri Lanka team (only my own); only admiration for spin bowling at its best. Not everyone has to spin a ball at right angles to be successful!

  • Mikesh on July 31, 2008, 10:12 GMT

    Last time i read the comments for his article which said, Kumar sanga stays neutral unlike other commentators. But this is bit disappointing. All he is doing is praising his own team and getting over hyped by the thumping win Srilankans had in the previous test. Hope you will get what you expect in your team. Future will decide who stands where.!!1

  • Kumar on July 31, 2008, 9:18 GMT

    Well written Sanga , another one of your best articles and also I agree with TISSA who posted a comment @ 1.37am GMT which is 100/: true . I like this thing called ''The Asian Blog'' .OK we all know English invented the game of cricket and used to be run and fully controlled by them now they can't do anything about this Asian Blog, they and some other western countries moaning about this. Michael Holding who thinks he is Western resigned over the decision by ICC to give a draw to Pakistan vs England match. Commentators supposed to be neutral as possible but watch Eng vs SA series and Mr.M.H crying over England's loss. So called ex players now commentating on cricket matches 'come on' be gentle and treat the umpires fairly as they only make decisions as they see/hear in split seconds but as audience we can see you guys watch this over and over again and you still have different opinion among 2 or 3 of you and to see the other side of the coin why don't you guys have a go on umpiring.

  • dc on July 31, 2008, 7:05 GMT

    you are the BEST..nothing more i can say. cricket is such a beautiful game ..having people like you makes it even nicer..Thank you

  • ch on July 31, 2008, 4:18 GMT

    Well done Kumara! Hope you will get the kind of hype you are looking for by the end of this series. India Vs Sri Lanka will be seen as big as India Vs Pakistan. Thanks to the competitive spirit from Lankans.

  • Ramesh on July 31, 2008, 2:10 GMT

    Thank you sanga for all what you and the guys have done for Srilankan cricket. You're articles are just superb. I have been a "Die Hard" fan of Lankan cricket and infact I share very close friendship with a number of players. I read some comments by our dearest friends across the border, they have pointed out about our fragile middle order. But I would like to ask them to first look at the whole Indian batting order doesnt it look fragile? With due respect to Tendulkars, Gangulys, Dravids who have been wonderful players but where are the rest? I hope they understand that cricket is a game and players do have good and bad times. All we need to do is stand by our cricketers and side them no matter what. So my friends look at your teams batting order rather than concentrating on our Lankan line up.

  • Ravi on July 31, 2008, 1:52 GMT

    Nice article Sanga..First of all congrats to your team for winning the test emphatically. Also I dont see how quickly the Indian team can find answers quickly specially with the reckless batting of the opening batsmen. I definitely think T20 had the impact on 50 overs Asia cup and now the tests. One aspect about some Indian players like ganguly and sehwag who treat spinners with so much disdain also appals me even if they show some more respect they will maul the spinners...However its the M factor which we need to wow for a while. The true test will however be when batsmen fail to respond which has a more likelihood with only you and Mahela showing some class. Playing and watching quality test cricket is still the connosieurs choice, so best of luck for the future...Die hard Indian fan:))...

  • Tissa on July 31, 2008, 1:37 GMT

    Kumar, Well written article again. It is great to see Sri Lankan Criicket is mosing forward. It is high time for other things to follow ( Health,journalism ,public and private sector etc). Go Sri Lanka! We had enough of preaching from West,about human rights etc. Complete crap. Sri Lankans know heaps better than west, we can look after our own destiniy. Go Sri Lanka!

  • Ranga on July 30, 2008, 18:17 GMT

    Unlike before now Sri Lanka has enough international players. One has to fight to stay in the team. I hope the competition gets harder. Keep up the good work guys. PS. Sanga, I live in USA. I watch you guys play as much as I can. I have a lot of respect for all in our team. But when I went home I saw the Coca-Cola adds with Mahela and Sanga. It looked very cheap. I think it could be better for your image (as role models especially for young Sri Lankans) if you stay away from commercials. To be fair I should mention that you guys do a lot of charity work. That is wonderful.

  • Rakitha on July 30, 2008, 14:59 GMT

    very true Sanga..Eventhough we are performing wonderfully well in Tests recent times still some extrimits believes that we have another long way to go in Test cricket. Sri Lanka is the only Test playing country except Bangladesh which haven't played a 4 or 5-match Test series yet. According to Charie, SL haven't got enough quality players. It's ridiculous. We have the world's best bowler and batsman. To add more Mahela, Ajantha, Vaasy all are class acts. If we rated teams according to the number of high quality players, SL should be in the top 3. I think England is the only team which depends on only 1 player named Kevin Pieterson. But ridiculously they are playing more than 10 Test matches per year. So Charie please be broad-minded. And also no-one is having any pre-Test discussions before a SL Test Series. If it is India,Australia,England or New Zealand, all critics are ready to fill their blogs and papers months before the Test series started. It's very unfair.

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