April 10, 2008

Silver linings

The result in Trinidad aside, there's plenty of good that can be taken from the West Indies Test series



Samaraweera produced 'one of the best centuries I have watched' © AFP

We expected to win the final Test and we should have won the series 2-0. So to lose in Trinidad was deeply frustrating. However, at the end of the day credit has to be given to West Indies, especially to Ramnaresh Sarwan, because they outplayed us for significant periods of the game.

What is disappointing is that I feel we were clearly the better team, and after Guyana we should have closed them out. However, we didn't bat well as a group in both innings in Port-of-Spain. There were a few outstanding performances - Chamara Silva and Tillakaratne Dilshan in the first innings and Thilan Samaraweera in the second, but those guys were not given sufficient support, unfortunately.

With hindsight, the most obvious turning point was the start of our second innings. The loss of both openers cheaply was a blow, and then losing both Mahela [Jayawardene], who was in cracking form, and myself in quick succession to fairly nonthreatening deliveries was crucial. Batting against the old ball was appreciably easier on days three and four but we were unable to exploit that.

Having said that, the 253-run target was certainly defendable, and when we started we were confident of bowling out West Indies. However, unlike in the first Test, we were a little loose. We fed the batsmen with too many scoring opportunities early on, and were unable to build-up the kind of pressure we needed.

Had we broken the Sarwan-Chanderpaul stand, the result could obviously have been very different. On paper it was the key partnership threat and so it proved in reality. Sarwan stood tall through the entire series. He was positive yet also keen to bat for long periods. His shot selection was excellent as he waited patiently for bad balls.

Chaminda Vaas was the shining light for us on the tour. He showed how you need to bowl at Sarwan: consistently bowl on one side of the wicket and wait patiently for a mistake. Sarwan likes to wait for the loose deliveries and if you deny him those, you can draw him into a false shot. But apart from Vaasy and Murali, the pressure was not maintained and Sarwan ticked along too easily.

Looking back on the series, there were several good individual performances that we can take great encouragement from. Vaasy was exceptional with bat and ball. Malinda Warnapura showed us that he is a batsman of note, and continued hard work, commitment, and strong self-belief should help him become a top-class international opener.

I thought Thilan's second-innings century, his sixth Test hundred, was a courageous innings from a man under great personal pressure. It was one of the best centuries I have watched, given it came in difficult circumstances. He showed us his character, hunger and mental resilience, proving that he can be the man we need for a crisis.

Dilshan and Chamara both produced important innings. I know Dilshan is criticised in some quarters for being overly flashy and aggressive, but you have to take the good with the bad. He adds a different dimension to the middle order and his natural instinct to attack can work for us, especially when you also have a traditional Test accumulator like Thilan ahead of him in the order.

Dilshan appears to have realised that he does have the ability to become one of our best batsmen. He has been working really hard and you can see little changes that indicate a growing maturity, like the way he maintains the tempo of the innings, rotates the strike, watches the fielders, and generally understands better what the opposition is trying to do. He understands his game better and that could take him to the next level.

 
 
Dilshan appears to have realised that he does have the ability to become one of our best batsmen. He has been working really hard and you can see little changes that indicate a growing maturity, like the way he maintains the tempo of the innings, rotates the strike, watches the fielders, and generally understands better what the opposition is trying to do
 

Thilan Thushara had a very impressive first Test. He was a bit patchy in the second, not quite maintaining the same control and discipline, but he showed good potential. I also thought that Rangana Herath, although he went wicketless in Guyana, bowled brilliantly and played a significant part in that victory with his miserly effort on the last day that created the pressure we needed.

After the game, I've heard people suggest that our team somehow lacks enough players with "class". I think this is wrong. We have the class and we have the ability in the Test line-up now. The key for us is maintaining a consistent line-up and playing together for a while. Players need some security to flourish. We now have to gel the talent into a workable structure, which is happening.

One regret I have is that this was a two-match series. I am not making excuses after we lost, I just feel strongly that the ICC needs to sit down when it starts planning the next Future Tours Program and work out how more of the increasingly prevalent two-match series can be turned into three-match series. In my book, this should be the minimum. I appreciate it is tough, but an effort must be made.

With just four days in between the Tests and ODIs we have had to quickly re-focus. That is pretty easy to do because the challenge of ODIs involves a complete change in thinking. We had our customary day off after the Test and now we are preparing for a different game with a different team and game plan. We have some new players and should be nicely balanced going into the series.