January 10, 2008

Our theme for this year needs to be consistency

Sri Lanka made considerable progress in 2007, but we now need to add to that the ability to win consistently

'One of the biggest things that's helped us in Test cricket is our varied and strong bowling attack, especially our pace quartet' © Getty Images

Sri Lanka have made strides in Test cricket in the last year. We have done a lot of things right and we now have a solid structure in place, a solid group of players, including some of the best in the world. We have that core and we're surrounded by incoming talent and ability; the next step is to achieve consistency in winning. To do that, all aspects of the game - preparation, training, fitness, mental strength, all of that plays a big role. And skill, too, of course.

When it comes to our fitness levels, all of us have improved. We've improved our strength and our approach, coming out of our comfort zones and adapting to new situations. But we're still not as consistent as we know we have to be. And one of the reasons for that has been the inconsistency, during some periods, of our batting line-up. With time and experience these are flaws we can iron out, but the quicker we go about it, the better.

Our varied and strong bowling attack, especially our pace quartet, has been a big asset in Test cricket. For long, Sri Lanka and other subcontinent teams have been spin-dominant bowling attacks, but for the last two or three years, especially with the Powerplays, the emphasis has been on fast bowlers bowling through the first 20 overs in one-day games. Also, with wickets getting better and not breaking up as much as they used to, and batsmen getting better at playing spin, the onus has been on the fast-bowling unit to take wickets in the subcontinent.

As a Test team Sri Lanka has been extremely lucky to have had a series of strong, young pace bowlers who have come close to performing brilliantly at that level. Even there, like with the batting, we'd like to have more consistency. I think the theme for 2008 would be to achieve that consistency in performance - in delivering runs and wickets, in backing it up with solid fielding, and winning more. That's what we take from the last year: to stay on top for longer.

In Australia, we struggled to take wickets because of a somewhat confused approach as to how to tackle the batsmen. We had the variations of Chaminda Vaas and Farveez Maharoof - who's quick enough but also has a lot of swing and seam in his armoury - and two outright quicks, Dilhara Fernando and Lasith Malinga, both different from each other.

The approach in any form of the game is line and length, and the bowling unit that manages this over a consistent period of time will win games. It wasn't a matter of talent but rather about them exerting pressure over a much longer period than us - or any other side in the world for that matter. That's exactly the kind of game Sri Lanka need to learn to play. We need to make sure that when we bowl, we hold our line and bowl faster, controlling and exploiting the correct channels that coaches and captains talk about. We need to bowl to set fields with set plans and execute them to our best ability. That's where we went wrong in Australia - inconsistency in our bowling plans.

The key is not to find someone to replace Murali or be the next Murali, but rather to figure out who the next best spinner is, and see if he can back up Murali or play on his own. We shouldn't judge him alongside Murali, because no one will ever be as good as Murali Optional caption below quote

There will come a time very soon when we'll have to play a support spinner to Murali, even in the subcontinent. Murali has bowled a lot of overs in his career and we need to get him a partner. There's Rangana Herath, Suraj Mohamed - a very good offspinner; there's Malinga Bandara, and plenty of support spinners coming through the ranks.

The key is not to find someone to replace Murali or be the next Murali, but rather to figure out who the next best spinner is, and see if he can back up Murali or play on his own. We shouldn't judge him alongside Murali because no one will ever be as good as Murali. But we should play the next best spinner and trust him to turn up and take wickets for Sri Lanka. If we have such an approach and have confidence in our spinners, I think we'll go a long way.

I don't keep wickets as much anymore and we still need a key allrounder. Every side in the world looks for a quality allrounder. So far, Maharoof seems to have the most potential. Of course, potential is intangible. The key is getting him to be the best he can be. Maharoof is a player who I believe has a huge future, though he's just scratching the surface. As long as he's committed and focused and knows what he wants from his career, I think he can be a fantastic allrounder. He's got the technique and the shots to be an excellent No. 7 batsman and to top it, he's an integral part of the bowling. If we find other pace-bowling allrounders, the balance of our side will be perfect.

'Getting to the World Cup final was memorable, though it's a pity it ended on the note that it did, and plenty of the responsibility should be taken by the ICC' © Getty Images

What else do I remember from 2007? Looking back the World Cup, all the games were memorable. The South Africa game, where we'd all but lost the game in the last few overs and [Lasith] Malinga brought us back to almost win it. When we beat New Zealand in the semi-finals and Mahela [Jayawardene] scored one of the best one-day hundreds. The final we lost, but it was memorable for Adam Gilchrist's innings and also the absolute mockery that happened on the field towards the end, with the light and the misinterpretation of the rules. It also brought into question the format of the tournament. The final was memorable for a lot of wrong reasons, and Gilly's excellent innings. It's a pity it ended on that note, and plenty of the responsibility should be taken by the ICC.

Then there was the World Twenty20 in South Africa, where we could have done a lot better. It was a new format and everyone was getting used to it. The way you play your Twenty20 cricket is vastly different from how you play the other versions, but I think it's a format that will allow plenty more players to don national colours: different players with different abilities.

That tournament was a learning experience and to have it was great. Everyone expects you to win when you go out, but you have to understand how to play that game, and that's where we were lacking. As long as you go out and enjoy it, play hard and expect to win, you will do well. You do also have to bring a bit of strategy in, as well as combinations and different types of players. We've learned from that and hopefully next time they have a Twenty20 competition, we can do better.

Does Twenty20 have a future? Yes, as long as there isn't overkill and it can be absorbed by the public and not pushed down their throats. It's a question of how it's managed and marketed. Cricket is in for a few exciting years, what with Twenty20 leagues coming up, and it's a wonderful time to be a cricketer.

As long as Test cricket still holds its rightful place as the ultimate form, I have no problems with all the formats becoming important and marketable commodities.