July 22, 2008

Changing gears

Sri Lanka may have won handily the last time they met India in international cricket, but this is a different ball game


The Asia Cup win has been a boost for Sri Lanka but it won't count for much in the upcoming Tests against India © Getty Images
 

I've been asked this question a few times since our Asia Cup victory: do Sri Lanka have a psychological hold over India?

I wouldn't say we do, as such, because we're talking about two different formats of the game, two distinctive versions which require different skills and aptitudes. So, when it comes to India, what happened in the Asia Cup shouldn't be too relevant. Yes, what we achieved in Pakistan does boost the self-confidence of the team, but this is a new group in some ways. The players coming into the Test side are coming with a fresh perspective.

I think we're starting on a pretty even keel. We have plans, and we're taking a very positive attitude into the first Test. We're upbeat and we believe we have the right processes in place. It has been a while since we played Test cricket, but we aren't focusing too much on that.

We have set targets for individual players, but then so much about adapting is about getting into your comfort zone: how you hit the ball, if you're a batsman; where you land it, if you're a bowler. Every single part of your armoury - your skill, your mental strength, your physical fitness, your ability to enjoy certain situations - all these are really tested in this format. Players love to test themselves, to be challenged. That's what Test cricket is all about.

People point out how over the last decade Sri Lanka have only lost only four series at home. That's great but it's not something we dwell too much on, because if you do so, it can add a lot of unnecessary pressure.

We try and control what we can, without overdoing ourselves. We have to keep things in mind during practice: keeping our plans intact, looking at where we want to attack, who we want to attack, and so on. It comes down to executing your skills.

The mood in the camp is really positive right now. We gel really well as a unit. You can see it in how the guys train, especially. In fact, the way we train is very important, for it is in practice that you can bond. If we can do our jobs well there, it sets us up for when we take the field.

When it comes to our success at home in the last decade, I think the fact that we have few grounds, and obviously Muttiah Muralitharan, are key factors. Murali has been a consistent match-winner, but Chaminda Vaas from the other end has also been crucial. The way he applies pressure, dries up the runs - that's important. His craft and ability to change deliveries, combined with Murali, has made for a lethal attack. If you look at the statistics, what these two have achieved, either before or after our batsmen have set up fighting totals, has been paramount to our winning games at home.

 
 
We just play much more as a unit when we are at home. We've been able to enjoy ourselves when playing in our country and in front of home crowds. That's a high right there
 

That said, the bowlers need the confidence of big totals to prove themselves, and more often than not our batsmen have been able to provide those. It is also because we've been able to enjoy ourselves when playing in our country and in front of home crowds. That's a high right there. We are a very small country and we're close together. We just play much more as a unit when we are at home.

I have stopped keeping in Tests for a couple of years now, so I'm not looking at this series any differently. Not having to keep does free up a lot of mental and physical capacities, which serves me and the team well. I can then concentrate on one skill. You can argue that it does put more pressure on you to deliver in that one main aspect - in my case in Tests, batting. I have a good idea of what is required from me and I'm confident of doing well against India.

I've not had a real chance to speak to Ajantha Mendis specifically about what could be his Test debut in Colombo. We know there's a lot of hype around him but we really don't care. That has come from the media mostly. Importantly for the team, we know what he can do. Whether he plays or not is a different matter. For us it's about getting the right combinations and right side out on the park.