Off-field incidents did not distract us

Sri Lanka deserved to win in New Zealand because they played better cricket

Kumar Sangakkara

December 22, 2006

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With verbal statements from both camps doing the rounds before the Test, Kumar Sangakkara had his say too, this time off the bat as his 156 stated Sri Lanka's intent © Getty Images
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Prior to the second Test there was plenty of media talk and tension between the teams following Muttiah Muralitharan's controversial run-out in Christchurch. Our view was clearly expressed by Mahela [Jayawardene] - We felt the spirit of the game had been contravened. The statements that then flowed from a disgruntled New Zealand camp only served to provide us fuel going into Wellington, intensifying our focus and determination to raise our game to a higher level.

Stephen Fleming made a very strong statement before the game, complaining his team were upset by Mahela's post-match comments in Christchurch and that these statements had motivated them, especially their fast bowlers who were looking forward to bowling at Sri Lanka's batsmen again. Fleming was clearly annoyed that a Kiwi victory was being diluted by the affair, which rumbled on and on in the media.

However, our view for the second Test, in direct contrast, was very measured. We sat down and carefully analysed our performance, concentrating on cricket and nothing but cricket. We had forgotten the controversy and had re-focused. We knew we had to step beyond where we were in Christchurch and that we had the time and resources to do that.

At the start, having seen a good hard pitch with no hidden terrors, we were of the opinion that the advantage would lie with the side that batted first and Mahela had no hesitation after winning the toss. But as happened in the first Test, we started poorly. Fortunately, though, the pitch settled down after the first 40 minutes or so and once you had the hang of the pitch batting became much easier.

The highlight of that first innings was not my hundred, although it grabbed the headlines, but the mental character displayed by Chamara Silva after his pair in the first Test. To come into the game and play the way he did, not allowing the disappointment of a pair rock his confidence or curb his style, was an amazing feat. It clearly showed the hunger he has to perform at this level. It was his 61 in the first innings that propped us up, securing us a competitive total.

We're all obviously thrilled by Chamara's superb batting. He is a very busy player in the classical middle-order mould, always looking to rotate the strike and searching for opportunities to score. Yet he is also solid against the good balls, happily defending, striking that very difficult balance - especially important for middle-order batsmen - between scoring runs and consolidating. Chamara has been out of the side for a long time but now he almost looks like the finished article. His attitude looks spot on and his mental resilience was there for all to see in Wellington. Of course, as with every cricketer, there is always room for improvement and it's going to be very exciting to see how he develops during the next six months to a year.



Chamara Silva has been out of the side for a long time but now he almost looks like the finished article. His attitude looks spot on and his mental resilience was there for all to see in Wellington © Getty Images
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Our final first innings total - 268- was mid-way between respectable and good. Having put the runs on the board, we knew we had the bowling firepower to claim an advantage and Lasith Malinga - or Mali as we call him - stepped up to the plate with an amazingly fast spell. He was consistently producing deliveries of around the 150kph mark with accuracy that made it very hard to play.

We'd seen some comments from the New Zealand camp that they felt satisfied that they'd worked him out and that he was not a genuine matchwinner. Thus it was especially pleasing to see him cut their top order to ribbons. He troubled them with sheer pace, bounce and variation, exploiting conditions perfectly. It was hostile fast bowling at its very best, a superb exhibition.

During the past two years Mali has come on leaps and bounds. He has a medium build but his body is wiry and naturally strong. Tom Moody says he has gained 22kg during the last year with all the fitness work designed to strengthen and protect his back. It's fantastic to see someone with such an unusual action that has been allowed to exploit his uniqueness.

Once we secured the lead, with Murali polishing off the tail with his customary wizardy, we just had to bat sensibly. Considering the conditions, we did not look too far ahead. At the outset the target was a lead of around 300. We lost some early wickets again but that only served to give Chamara another chance to apply himself, which he did brilliantly, showing immense maturity under pressure while batting with the lower order.

With a lead in excess of 500, we know it was just a matter of time before winning, but we also knew we could not just relax and wait for it to happen. The bowling unit once again delivered. Murali was magnificent with his fifth ten-wicket haul of the year - a phenomenal achievement - and backed up well by Malinga and Vaasy [Chaminda Vaas], who bowled really intelligently and tightly.

In the end we deserved to win as we played a better game of cricket and, importantly, keep our focus just on the cricket. We made sure that all that happened off the field did not distract us. In the aftermath of the victory, comparisons were made with the England tour where we also bounced back to square a three-match series. But we can't be looking back. This was an entirely different series in different conditions. Moreover, we are now playing better cricket, a more complete brand of cricket. The focus now must be the future, making sure we are constantly improving.

The Test series is over now and we start a long run-up to the World Cup, a crucial period during which we have to fine-tune our game and strategies. Fortunately, the victory in Wellington has boosted confidence ahead of the five-match ODI series. We have proved to ourselves that we can perform in New Zealand conditions and must now carry forward that self-belief into the ODI series.

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Kumar Sangakkara One of the pillars of the Sri Lankan team, Kumar Sangakkara is among the most influential cricketers in world cricket. An attractive, free-stroking left-hand batsman, Sangakkara also possesses the temperament to compile big scores (and those have been coming ever more frequently since he gave up wicketkeeping to focus on batting). Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene hold the world record for the highest wicket partnership, 624 for the third, against South Africa at Colombo, of which his share was 287. Intelligent and articulate, he is a sharp-eyed strategist, and a sharper-tongued sledger.

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