February 25, 2008

Sweat the small stuff

Sri Lanka have the ability but the execution has been lacking so far in the CB Series

It hasn't been a memorable CB Series for Sri Lanka so far © Getty Images

Thankfully the IPL auction has not been a distraction for the Sri Lankans. Of course, some of us figured in the auction but the overall focus of the team has always remained the CB Series. Unfortunately, though, we seem to have faltered on certain fronts in our campaign. People might just be wondering what has happened to the team that reached the World Cup final.

The only thing that has changed from then is, we are not functioning well as a batting unit, and some of the players are a bit low on confidence - though no one is out of form.

There also seems to be a slight confusion in terms of individual gameplans. But overall the belief and the ability are the same, so it's again a question of finding an individual gameplan that is successful. Indidviduals need to learn their own games better so that they have a successful formula always in mind and fine-tune it to situations they face in the middle.

That ability to formulate a proper gameplan is critical. When you don't function as a batting unit, you lose wickets early, and that puts pressure on the middle order. And if the middle-order batters are also struggling a bit, you'll always be putting too much pressure on yourself attempting to come out of that situation. In contrast, when people are high on confidence, whatever the situation they are in, they have an instinctive idea of how to play. That's the sort of belief we should be having in ourselves at the moment. We have the ability; we just have to find a way of executing plans successfully out in the middle.

Personally, I take confidence in the way I am training a day before the game or in the week leading up to the game, and how I'm achieving what I want to achieve in practice. That gives me a lot of satisfaction and in turn confidence. I also believe very strongly in challenging myself in training and doing difficult things, because when you overcome those difficulties, you always have an overwhelming sense of confidence going into games. It doesn't guarantee success in games, but at least it gives you the base and the confidence needed to go out there and perform. That is the first step always.

Sri Lanka, as a team, have historically had the label of being unpredictable, but we are trying to change that and become consistent, so people know exactly what they are going to get from us - a very, very professional performance every single day.

The starting point is obviously in training, where you need to challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone. Players get confidence from the way they train, and the things they achieve in practice. Also from what they talk about in a team environment, what the attitude is in the dressing room, and the relationships they have with each other - the belief and trust they have. These are all factors that go into building confidence and are of vital importance in a team sport.

I wouldn't agree that our batting order has become weak. It looks worse than it is because there are more than one or two batsmen in the side who are going through lean periods. The pressure is compounded when the others get out to good balls. But the key is having the ability to scratch around and stay at the wicket and score, as Steve Waugh used to say, an "ugly" hundred.

Yes, we've struggled with finding a consistent opening pair. We had one in Upul Tharanga and Sanath Jayasuriya, but we haven't done well in that department on this tour. It's time we identified who we want to have as long-term openers and really trust those players to deliver and keep faith in them.

As for the rest of the batting order, we have some fantastic ODI cricketers, like Chamara Silva, who did well during the World Cup and since. Unfortunately, he's been going through a phase where he's short on confidence. Tillakaratne Dilshan, again, is a really good player. Mahela Jayawardene is in top form at the moment and he has been delivering consistently for years now and has been the batting lynchpin for Sri Lanka. Lower down we have Chamara Kapugedera, who I believe has the ability to become a really good cricketer; we need to keep faith in him. We've been looking for a fast-bowling allrounder for years and now Farveez Maharoof has emerged as the chosen one.

I believe very strongly in challenging myself in training and doing difficult things, because when you overcome those difficulties, you always have an overwhelming sense of confidence going into games

At the end of the day, everyone must carry their own weight and deserve their place in the side. As I said earlier, players must individually examine themselves and see whether they have the belief, commitment and hunger to not just get into the side, but more important, also stay in the side for long periods.

The youngsters have not been overwhelmed by the responsibility. They understand very well what they have to do. I'm a great believer in the senior players leading by example and making sure their performances are at a peak, so the youngsters see and follow those examples. That's the best thing in a team environment.

Preparation, both mental skills-wise and physically, is going to be very important if we are to perform better in the two remaining games than we have so far. Whether we win or not doesn't matter as much as doing the little things right, sticking to the basics, and getting the processes right so that the results take care of themselves. It's always good to go into a match thinking that you have to win it, but not without a process in place to achieve that result.

At the moment what we need to do is keep wickets in hand and bat for long periods of time. If we can get that right, we can come out of this difficult period and ensure that we don't go into a slump again.