November 1, 2007

We're here to win

Things are shaping up nicely for Sri Lanka after their first tour game



'I should have taken a bit more responsibility to make sure I was properly warmed up' © Getty Images

With one warm-up out of the way and one to come before the two-Test series against Australia, competition for Test places is hotting up. I tore my left hamstring in the first tour match against the Chairman's XI in Adelaide, and my focus will be on trying to make the first Test.

The openers, Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvan Atapattu, had a fantastic start in that game, with a century stand. It wasn't the warmest of days and I was just sitting around, moving around only occasionally, as I was waiting to go in at four. The third ball I faced, I took quite a quick single, and when I was putting in extra to make the crease to avoid getting run out, I felt quite a big pull in my hamstring. I haven't missed any games through injury for the last eight years and this is the first one that could affect a major game.

The results of my scan showed a grade one tear, so I'm just trying to do everything right with my treatment and make sure I get ready for the Test. You never know with injuries - it depends on the individual. If it were a grade two tear, which is a major tear, it would be a different story. I've got all the care I need with the physio, but over the next few days I will know how it's heading. I'm not in any major pain now; it's just discomfort.

Tommy, our physio, always tells us, "Make sure you are on the bike before going in to bat, so your muscles are warm and supple." I just neglected that enough to cause myself an injury. I should have taken a bit more responsibility to make sure I was properly warmed up.

If I missed the first Test I would be very disappointed. It's a tour I've been looking forward to for a long time, and Australia is a place I look forward to coming to: the wickets, the challenge and the intensity are always heightened here.

But the guys would be fine without me. No player is indispensable at any point. We've got a fantastic keeper, Prasanna Jayawardene, and he's a great batter as well. He's very confident and he's a very, very good player. He's played quite a few Tests, and got his first hundred in our last series.

It would be another opportunity for a batter to come in as well, and his job will be to try to keep me out of the side for as long as possible, whereas I need to try to come in again. It's great that everyone is competing for Test places. There are no guarantees. Players who expect to play could miss out because of performances by the new guys. It's a free-for-all at the moment, which is great to get that competitive edge going, and means a constant upping of performances.

We need to figure out our bowling and batting combinations, and the second practice game is going to be important. We've got four specialist openers and all four have been great performers over the years. It's great to see two guys who've been around for years and two who are new to Test cricket fighting for places. That shows we've got strength in our reserves.

Fielding is what we'll be looking at over the next few days. Fielding is about always wanting the ball, not taking your eye off the game at any point. It's the one thing you can always control

Michael Vandort has been around for a while; he made a hundred against Bangladesh in the last series, and he's averaging in the fifties. Upul Tharanga has always been a fantastic prospect and he'll be trying to cement his opening spot in the Test side.

Marvan has been around for ages, so it's going to be a case where we are looking at form and experience. If form can be tied to experience, that's going to be fantastic for us, especially against Australia. He hasn't played first-class cricket for a while, so to go and get a half-century first up, as he did in Adelaide, does a lot for your confidence. Sanath was exceptional in his century. Together they've been a very successful opening pair for Sri Lanka.

Marvan has been one of the best batsmen Sri Lanka has ever produced. Technically very, very correct. He's got a lot of heart and character when it comes to digging in, and he also scored a century last time on tour here in Cairns. Memories like those can instill a lot of confidence in the players, and that rubs off on the others as well. We're looking at Marvan and all the batsmen getting as much confidence as possible.

I definitely think that Chanaka Welegedara can be a contender for the first Test if his quadricep injury is nothing serious. He's been a really great, consistent performer in the A side over the past few years, and that's why he's on this tour. As a left-armer he gives us an advantage, and he likes to come in and keep bowling. He swings the ball, he's got good pace, and he's also very accurate. There's not much more you can ask from a bowler.

Lasith Malinga and Chaminda Vaas will be back for the next game. They were rested in Adelaide because you have to make sure you don't tire them out so they can be in rhythm and can bowl long spells.

It's been great to watch Murali go out there and enjoy his bowling. His performances lift when he comes to the challenge of the bigger games. You could see him trying a few things out to get his lines right, figuring out how to bowl to lefties and righties. You know that he's thinking ahead and trying to work out exactly what he's going to do. He bowled a few overs in this one, so it will be good to rest him in Queensland and make sure he's right for the Test.

The first warm-up went very well overall, although it was a bit of a strange game, with a couple of injuries. That kind of muddles the rhythm up a bit. It was never a case of getting easy runs, and as in Tests, the batsmen were assessing conditions rather than scoring runs and they did that really well, though they did manage to score a fair few runs off bad balls as well. There was always positive intent, even in leaving the ball, and that was great to watch.

The wicket was quite green and damp, not the quickest wicket we will play on, but the guys accepted that. It's never going to be exactly as we you want. Different adjustments are what we're looking for, different challenges, trying to get out of our comfort zone is always key, especially when you're touring.



"Chanaka Welegedara swings the ball, has got good pace, and is very accurate. There's not much more you can ask from a bowler" © AFP

I think our bowling was also very good, though the fielding at times was a bit lacklustre, and we dropped five catches. That's what we'll be looking at over the next few days. Fielding is about always wanting the ball, not taking your eye off the game at any point. It's the one thing you can always control, and we know it's a great thing for team morale.

It's a good thing, too, to have as many practice matches as we can before a Test but with the current scheduling it's difficult to get any more in. We have got to be happy with what we get. If you get two, you are lucky.

Our coach, Trevor Bayliss, has helped us enormously, especially since he is from here. It's great to talk to a guy who has coached and played at the top level in Australia. Just the little pointers you can get from him about the wickets, the mental aspect, what you should look for as a batter - he's the full package. The more you talk to him, the more you learn. The way things are going right now, I think it's going to be a fantastic relationship with him, and also with Paul Farbrace, the assistant coach. Trevor is reserved and quiet, very practical; Paul's a bit more outgoing. They've blended well with the team.

There's been talk of aiming for our first Test win in Australia. That's what we're here for: there's no other reason why we come on tour other than making sure to win. Winning here, especially against the current Australian team, is going to be fantastic if we can pull it off. Once we start believing we can, the performances start coming, and it all starts to fall into place. It's about belief and attitude. The skills will always be there - it's how you apply them.

There's been talk about security, too. Well, we have absolutely no issues here. There's been a lot of talk about crowds and the attitude to us. We always maintain that we can't control what people in the crowd do. If they want to be antagonistic and angry, that's up to them. Our job is to make sure we play good cricket so everyone can appreciate that effort. That's all we're going to worry about.

The relationship between the teams is great. A few things happen: most games you do get tempers boiling over, you do get incidents, but players always accept that. We leave all that on the field when we walk off. We don't expect anything different from the Aussies and we're not going to be any different playing them. We just have to go as hard as we can and make sure we match them in everything.

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