August 17, 2009

Time to set the record straight

The last time New Zealand visited Sri Lanka, both Tests were drawn. This is an opportunity to learn from that experience and put things right

It's been a busy and satisfactory season for us so far, and up next we have New Zealand, a team I really like playing. I got my first century against them, in Galle, in 1998.

I have a couple of very good ODI hundreds against them as well, and the one in the World Cup semi-final two years ago was an especially memorable knock. Hopefully I can continue to have the same kind of success over the next month or so.

It's not just because I have had success against them that I like playing New Zealand. They are tough opponents, they play hard and keep coming at you, and they are a very tough team to beat. We know New Zealand might lack in terms of superstars and big names, but they have a very good bunch of players who play very well as a unit and feed off each other's success, and they can't be taken for granted. We need to beware of that talent and concentrate on doing well.

It's unfortunate that we haven't played New Zealand as often as we would have liked to. It's the same with some other countries as well. We need some sort of system where we play cricket on a consistent basis against all opposition, home and away.

It would have been great to play a three-Test series, but then it's a long season. We have already played a series against Pakistan, and have a lot of one-day cricket and a number of other tournaments around the corner, so it's difficult to get all this into the picture.

The tight schedule means that we have to switch off from Pakistan mode and on to New Zealand fairly quickly. But it's not that difficult; it's all about mental preparation. There are a lot of positives to be taken from the Pakistan series, and we need to translate that into good form in this series. We need to recognise that New Zealand is a different challenge, identify that difference, prepare for it and go ahead and enjoy ourselves.

Going into the series as favourites involves a certain set of challenges. We need to guard against being complacent, and do the things that we have been doing well for the last two or three years. We have played some really good Test cricket, and we have to continue doing that. It's about doing the things that matter right: building partnerships, building pressure, winning sessions. If we concentrate on doing that, the results will come our way.

New Zealand's Test batting line-up is a bit inexperienced but there is a lot of talent in their team. They have good quality spinners backed up by some really good fast bowlers. So it should be an interesting challenge, one that we are looking forward to.

It's not just because I have had success against them that I like playing New Zealand. They are tough opponents, they play hard and keep coming at you, and they are a very tough team to beat

The last time they came here they managed to draw both Test matches. It was a disappointing result for us; we had the opportunities but we didn't convert them. We realise now what mistakes we made, and this is a good chance to correct them. We are a more mature team now, and we have played together for quite some time, and the guys have been playing some really good Test cricket.

There are a few New Zealand players we haven't seen a lot of, but there is video analysis; and we have inputs from a few of our A-team players, who were in New Zealand a year and a half ago, and are in our senior squad now.

What we do know for sure is that Daniel Vettori is going to be the biggest threat for us: a talented spinner and their most experienced player. His experience will come handy in our conditions. Brendon McCullum, Jacob Oram and Ross Taylor are the other guys who they will rely on. Those are the standouts for us.

We have seen a lot of Jesse Ryder and Taylor. We know that they are a bundle of talent. So there have been plans drawn for them, how to control them. That's a great challenge for our bowlers, to be bowling against good young talent.

For us, we have only had good news leading up to the Tests. Tillakaratne Dilshan, Prasanna Jayawardene and Muttiah Muralitharan are all fit and available, which makes for a happy selectorial headache. Luckily the headache is Kumar Sangakkara's, not mine! As selectors and captains, you don't mind having to make such decisions. The headache of the bad kind is the one when you don't have the guys out there.

No doubt we will have some tough calls to make: whether to drop Ajantha Mendis or Rangana Herath, how to fit Dilshan and Prasanna in, and so on. But as a team we don't want to shy away from them. We made tough calls against Pakistan too. We will make decisions that we think are right for the team, against the given opposition, and under the match conditions at hand.

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