We need to keep Harbhajan under control
It was a special way to end a special match for me when I took Pragyan Ojha's catch in Galle. I was hoping, pleading, for that catch to come my way. I knew it would be a great moment and I am glad I caught hold of it, otherwise I would have been the most hated Sri Lankan.
I have enjoyed being in the slips for Muttiah Muralitharan. Those were not easy catches, because batsmen often reacted late, and you had to react accordingly. And all those angles he created, especially when he came round the wicket, I found it really difficult. With any other spinner you know they are not going to take much spin, so you know you can stand close to the wicketkeeper. But with Murali's turn, you had a lot of catches go wider as well, so you had to get those angles right. I have missed a few catches too, and Murali wasn't pleased with them. But most of them I have held on to so I am quite happy.
Especially the one of Ojha's to bring up Murali's 800th wicket. It ranks right up there with the most special among the catches I have taken: be it the ones at silly mid-off and short leg at the start of my career, which I really cherish, or the one that brought up Murali's 700th wicket.
Another pleasing aspect of the match was how we didn't give a single wicket to Harbhajan Singh. The last couple of times he has been here, we have handled him fairly well. He is a top-class bowler, and when you have a bowler of the calibre of Harbhajan, you have to try to get on top of him. Especially in this scenario, when India have a depleted bowling line-up. So he is under pressure to perform. If we can keep their No. 1 bowler under control, we will probably have won half the battle.
The first team meeting without Murali was very quiet. When Murali is there, it is very talkative. He is always up to something, chirpy, doing something, saying something. We will definitely miss him on that front. At the same time, the youngsters, the couple of guys who were in the squad, they now know they have got their opportunity. You can see smiles on their faces, they know this is their opportunity. Those are good moments in a team environment.
Apart from Murali, Lasith Malinga will be missing too. That's 15 wickets in the last match. It will be tough for us, to go without two attacking bowlers who did really well. It will be a big challenge, but a good one at the same time. With Malinga we knew we were never going to over-exert him. Given his injury history and his value to side, especially with the World Cup in mind, we were always going to review his condition after the first Test. He obviously gave everything he had, is a bit tired and a bit stiff now, but we expect him to be back for the third Test.
One of the bowlers we are looking forward to having back is Ajantha Mendis. He has played against India in the past, has been successful, and also got six wickets in the tour game. I didn't see the tour game, but I followed it through our coaches, and they were very impressed with the way he bowled. He is hungry again. We knew after a period of time the batsmen will start playing him well, and he has to keep changing his tactics, his angles. The good thing is, he has age on his side, and this is a good learning curve.
We know we are close to the No. 1 ranking, but that is secondary to us. We need to focus on just this Test, and if we win this Test we win the series. That's the most important thing right now. Rankings we can look at later. We know if we play good cricket, we will get the No. 1 ranking.
There have been arguments about the rankings, but I am a firm believer that we need to revamp the FTP. The top eight teams are not playing enough and consistent cricket among each other. Sri Lanka are one of the teams to have not got the opportunities. It is an unfair deal. Hopefully we can have a fair system where we play home and away against all the top teams, then you can probably assess the rankings better. Then you know you have gone up against the best teams and then you know where you stand after that.
Rankings, though, are not on our minds right now. All we are thinking about is that we have a visiting side down 1-0, and we need to finish it off. We have the home conditions on our side. The next match is at one of my favourite venues, the SSC, where I enjoy batting a lot. The pitch comes across as much better, has a bit more pace and bounce. Since I left school, I have been at SSC except for the first season. The atmosphere there is something special.
We are not getting ahead of ourselves and thinking of 3-0. We will definitely look to go 2-0. We need to close the series somehow in this match. We know we let India back in on their last two tours after leading 1-0. They are not going to bow down. They are a good side and they will come strong at us, and we will be prepared for that.
Like in the first match, we will need to be aggressive, and do little things right. We lost only one session then, and will need to keep that kind of pressure on the Indians.
Former Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene is the country's leading Test run-scorer