July 27, 2009

Tough calls pay off

Dropping Vaas, having Dilshan keep - not all the decisions Sri Lanka made against Pakistan were universally acclaimed, but they worked in the end

When we won the second Test, and with that the series, I was at the non-striker's end. Thilan Samaraweera hit the winning runs, and I punched the air, not suppressing my happiness. It was jubilation because I knew we hadn't beaten Pakistan in a home Test series before. We all knew we hadn't.

In a statement before the series I said that we were extra focused to get this feather in our cap. We have dominated every other team in Sri Lanka, and also beaten Pakistan twice in Pakistan, but this one was missing. When I was captain, we won in the West Indies for the first time in our history, and it was a great achievement to be the first Sri Lankan team to do so. We like to grab every opportunity to create history; we all spoke about it before the series, about wanting to be the first team to beat Pakistan in Sri Lanka.

The success came because we made some crucial, bold decisions both during the series and before it. Not all of those decisions had the backing of everyone, but they worked for us. The first was perhaps the most difficult one: to not include Chaminda Vaas in the squad. It was a tough call for the selectors and for Kumar Sangakkara. But you need to make those tough calls as a leader, with regards to what combinations you require going into a tournament. The way Nuwan Kulasekara and Thilan Thushara were bowling, they were our in-form bowlers, delivering day in and day out. These calls have to be made, and people need to understand that.

The other choices we were forced to make were due to injuries to Muttiah Muralitharan and Prasanna Jayawardene. Murali's injury two days before the first match called for quick action. That was the sort of thing no side can be prepared for. Murali and Ajantha Mendis were our two spinners, and the next best spinners were both playing league cricket in England. It took us 24 hours to assess Murali's injury and whether he would be able to continue. Only after that could we bring Rangana Herath down from England.

It was a collective call. Herath is among our most experienced spinners, and he had played Test cricket recently. He had done well against Pakistan before, and we also knew in the back of our minds that Pakistan batsmen didn't play left-arm spinners that well. We saw that against New Zealand, when Daniel Vettori bowled really well against them. Same with England and Monty Panesar.

As far as Prasanna's injury goes, we got cover for him in Kaushal Silva. But we also wanted to play Angelo Mathews at No. 7 or even 6. He could bring in the extra bowling option, and he is a genuine batsman. We knew it was going to be tough for Sangakkara as captain to keep wicket and bat at No. 3. Tillakaratne Dilshan had done the job at provincial level, but to do it in Tests would be very difficult. Even the selectors didn't back the idea, but Sangakkara wanted it done and we all supported him. These days you have to think out of the box - you can't afford to be one-dimensional.

I have enjoyed this series - not having the responsibility of having to make tough decisions. I have much more free time for myself. I did enjoy cricket before too, but it's much more fun right now

Those decisions made, we went into the Test series with one of our most inexperienced attacks, a non-regular wicketkeeper, and under a new captain. We spoke about that in team meetings as well: how everybody would have to take on extra responsibility; and the young guys did just that, brilliantly.

It was pleasing to see Kulasekara, who is our No. 1 bowler in ODIs, put his hand up and say he was capable of spearheading the attack in Test cricket. Thushara helped him ably.

Everybody chipped in. After the first Test, the selectors were relieved at the brilliant job Dilshan did behind the stumps. Dilshan sums up the word allrounder: he can bowl, bat, field and keep wicket. He does everything for you.

The first Test was a tough game for Herath. He was tired, having been flown in so late. But it was a great opportunity for him to show what he was capable of. He was going to be our back-up bowler alongside Mendis, but after two Tests he was in front of Mendis in terms of performance.

It's an interesting phase for Mendis. We anticipated such a series because of the kind of start he had. Obviously a lot of batsmen and teams are going to focus more on him and how to play him. But he is enjoying the challenge; he is working very hard to be a better bowler.

The other factor of concern for us was the inconsistency of our openers. For the last two or three years we have had quite a few openers come in and go out. This time Tharanga Paranavitana showed a lot of promise. Malinda Warnapura had an up-and-down series; he was pretty consistent before. His technique is a bit orthodox when it comes to opening, but what matters is scoring runs. It's a good challenge for these guys. We would like to have a combination that is going to be there for some time. Right now it's not a huge concern, but definitely something that we are looking at. There are quite a few young guys coming through the system, which will keep these two alert.

Having Dilshan keep could come in for criticism because he fractured a finger during the third Test. It's always going to be a tough one. Injuries can happen to anybody anywhere. Murali injured his knee during fielding practice. You can't just say, "Why was he fielding?" Dilshan could have fractured his finger fielding at point too. You have to sometimes make these decisions, and our captain made this one for the good of the team.

Sangakkara has shown in his first two big tournaments that he is capable of making tough decisions at the right time. It will take him some time to really settle into the role and be very comfortable, but he is handling himself really well. He brings a new ethic to the team, a new culture. He is going to enjoy himself, and he is going to make his mark in Sri Lankan cricket history as a captain.

For me it didn't matter that I wasn't the captain. I have enjoyed this series - not having the responsibility of having to make some of the tough decisions that Sangakkara made. I am enjoying the other responsibility I have as a senior player, trying to guide younger players and helping the captain in tough situations. I have much more free time for myself. I did enjoy cricket before too, but it's much more fun right now.

Having said that, the first two Tests were not exactly fun throughout. Pakistan came hard at us. They scored hundreds in both those matches, while we had just three fifties. We always knew it was going to be tough. We knew we would have to fight and grind for each advantage. We were fighting for everything - half chances, run-outs, 20-30 runs here and there. Everybody chipped in, which was amazing. To have won the series without Murali and Vaas, beating Pakistan at home for the first time, and at the same time coming back from behind in both matches is a great achievement.

Former Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene is the country's leading Test run-scorer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • sara on July 30, 2009, 9:19 GMT

    Not much has changed in the captaincy department, still the defensive approach. My problem is why did'nt we try to win the 03rd test match?? Ok dilshan was hurt but considering the partnership of Thilan & Kumar of 122 runs for the 4th wicket & afterwards 114 runs unbroken partnership between Angelo M & the captain, our fellows should have given a try. we had already won the series & this match was a dead rubber but thanks to our think tanks the 5th day was made shockingly boring.

    In last 20 or so overs we had to score approx about 4.2 runs per over and our guys were going barely at 2.0 rpo. Nobody took a chance (cant blame Mathews though since it was not his call) This was a great oppotunity to take the risk and go for a win and break a world record of chasing 492 in the 4th innings but we ended up with a DRAB draw.

    We won the series congratulations for that... 2-0 or 2-1 better yet a clean sweep if we we tried 3-0 was always on the cards.

  • Bimalka on July 29, 2009, 15:17 GMT

    Its amazing how many Sri Lankans actually believe they can do a better Job playing for their country than the Mahelas & Sangakkaras. I dare say most of the 'pundits' here have never played a game of cricket with a leather ball in their life. Some guy tries to compare Aravinda to Mahela - Which game are you watching? Aravinda spent 3/4th of his career being the 'Audacious' batsman who underachieved for most of his career. Only during the mid nineties did he develop into a world class player. Mahela has been a world class player for most of his career while carrying the expectation of being the next Aravinda. Don't get me wrong, Aravinda was the most naturally talented batsman to play for Sri Lanka. But Mahela & Sangakkara will have achieved much more than Aravinda did by the time their careers come to a close (maybe apart from a hundred in a WC final) by just being consistent throughout most of their career.

  • Dishan on July 29, 2009, 3:29 GMT

    My view is that Srilanka should have gone with Sangakara with the gloves as he is our main stay,as most could see that there were lot of misses by Dilshan in the first test and a non regular Wicket keeper could hurt himself as it ultimately happend,had we not won the first 2 games and drawn the third on docile pitch,these comments from mahela could be a lot different,I can once remember the aussies use Jimmy Maher as wicket keeper during Gilchrist absense he did a good job like Dilshan did for us, but still Rod March called him a ball stopper not Wicked Keeper.We know that Sangakara Doesn't like keeping in tests but what it has done is a black hole for the one day and T20 teams,time only will tell whether we'll get sucked into it or prevail.

  • Rajinda on July 29, 2009, 3:13 GMT

    How many arm chair pundit's does it take to ruin SL cricket? Just read any responses to Cricinfo articles about MJ, & you will get the answer. There are many pundits who come out of woodworks to take a shot at him, this is no different. Some try to compare him to Ara, while another try to compare his writing to Sanga. Others even suggest that MJ is jealous of Sanga. This after the man stepped down to give his good friend the opportunity to lead the team. I do agree on one point someone made here., that MJ has written the obvious here. Though I am a big fan of MJ & Sanga, a while back I criticized them both here, asking them to let their cricket do the talking & leave journalism for retirement. Other than that all I have to say to MJ bashers is that your constant attacks only proves that MJ is still on top of his game. Stats on or no stats he will go down the SL record books as one of the best cricketers & the best captain they ever had (unless Sanga tops him with a WC win!)

  • Gopalakrishna on July 28, 2009, 18:41 GMT

    AR Border of Australia had registered four centuries and nine half centuries at Adelaide Oval, GS Chappell of Australia had registered four centuries and nine half centuries at Melbourne and JH Kallis of South Afirca had registerd five centuries and eight half centuries at Cape Town.

  • Gopalakrishna on July 28, 2009, 18:33 GMT

    World Record for DPMD Jayawardene DPMD Jayawardene's 79 gave him another world record for most fifties at a specific venue. It was his 14th fifty at Col-SSC {09 centuries and 05 half centuries}. While creating this world he went past three batsmen - AR Border, GS Chappell and JH Kallis who had registered 13 fifties at specific venues. DPMD Jayawardene's fourteen fifties at Col-SSC are listed below

    No Runs Pos Inns Opp Ground Start Date 1 242 3 2 Ind Col-SSC 24.02.1999 2 77 5 1 Pak Col-SSC 14.06.2000 3 *101 4 4 SAF Col-SSC 06.08.2000 4 71 5 1 Eng Col-SSC 15.03.2001 5 139 4 2 Ind Col-SSC 29.08.2001 6 #150 4 2 Ban Col-SSC 06.09.2001 7 134 4 2 Eng Col-SSC 18.12.2003 8 82 4 1 SAF Col-SSC 11.08.2004 9 82 4 3 Pak Col-SSC 26.03.2006 10 374 4 2 SAF Col-SSC 27.07.2006 11 127 4 2 Ban Col-SSC 25.06.2007 12 195 4 2 Eng Col-SSC 09.12.2007 13 136 4 1 Ind Col-SSC 23.07.2008 14 79 4 2 Pak Col-SSC 20.07.2009 # Retired out

    HRG - Cricket Statistician - Bangalore Congrats, Mahela

  • Hiran on July 28, 2009, 15:38 GMT

    Chandau is obviously not a good observer of the game. True that Mahela is no Aravinda or Jayasuriya. He is MAHELA. Current holder of the highest test score for a right handed batsman and one of the two batsman from sri lanka to have a test average of over 50. Every player is different. Mahela need not be compared to others. Its like comparing Aravinda with Viv Richards. There is no comparison. Both are brilliant in their unique ways. Dont forget what Mahela did to england in england 2006 and that he took us to the 2007 worldcup final. Mahela is a true gentleman. He saw an able leader in Sanga and gave him the chance. Or else Sanga was destined to play out his entire career under Mahela, due to them being in the same age bracket. We all found out what a great captain Shane Warne was in the first IPL and the captain that australia never had. What a waste due to greed. Mahela resigned from captaincy at the right time. unlike the past greats like Arjuna and co. I am sure

  • Thejana on July 28, 2009, 13:57 GMT

    Well I don't agree with ZICO regarding the generosity in letting vaas to play the last test. Well what matters is giving the opportunity to the right guy to play.They should never let emotions to be a part of the team selection. Selectors did the right thing in leaving vaas for the 2nd test and letting kulasekara and thushara to blossom in the series and it paid off. They previously allowed vaas to play in the last series played in pakistan and he bowled for overs and overs without getting any wickets and to be really honest he showed the same stuff in the last test and got to appreciate for not selecting him for the first 2 matches instead of thushara which could have cost the series. Vaas is a legend and theres no doubt it. But everybody has to go when time is up.

    Mahelas article is pretty good but got to say he boasts about himself in the second paragraph mingled with little jealousy. As far as I reckon kumar never flatters or boasts about himself by alluding in his articles.

  • chandana on July 28, 2009, 4:46 GMT

    If Sanga cant keep then he should open for team balance. Sanga, Para, Anjello, Mahela, Sam, Dilly, PJ, must be the top 7. Did anyone notice that Sanga cant bowl or run fast on the field?? he's like a container compared to Dilly who can field anywhere close in mid field or out field and bowl decent off spin. If Mahela is talking about options, who gives more to the team Sanga or Dilly?? For folks who think of Anjelo as an all rounder, I will say he is our Shane Watson a good battter who bowls military medium. He was good at school level but has a bad back now. So dont run him to ground like Zoysa, who never recovered from a bad NZ tour. As for Mahela's batting folks, stats look good on paper, its what you do in the middle for the team that counts. Mahela is another Gurusinghe, whos not living up to the talent and potential he has. I remember Ari saying Mahela will be better than he ever was but im still waiting to see the genius and swagger and audacity of Aravinda still from Mahela.

  • Cricinfouser on July 27, 2009, 19:57 GMT

    Nice one Mahela.I had seen all the 3 matches between sri lanka and pakistan .And I only found Pakistan in a good position only in the 2nd test when Fawad and Younis where on crese but after Paranavitana swapped Younis Khan ,It was all Sri Lanka in the match.Kulasekara and Herath put up a good show.You and Sangakkara also etertained us by putting a 50 runs patnership off 46 balls for the 3 rd Wicket.Get Going SRI LANKA.

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