Sri Lanka v India, 2nd Test, SSC July 25, 2010

We need to keep Harbhajan under control

If we can keep India's No. 1 bowler quiet, we will probably have won half the battle

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rebecca on July 27, 2010, 6:38 GMT

    Bhajji is going through a lean patch, so all the pseudo cricket experts are pouncing on him!What about the other bowlers, have they made any impression whatsoever? Absolutely not. Zero. People say, Zaheer Khan is missing and that's why India are struggling, he's probably got the worst strike rate out of all the opening fast bowlers in the world! Its people like Harbhajan which have allowed India to dominate cricket superpowers like Australia in recent years, but the (some not all) Indian cricket fans resort to ugly (and thankless) criticism of richly talented players in situations like this. Pretty shallow and low quality thinking that. Those who are having a go at him now, are the same back stabbing fans that sachin tendulkar forever warns us about! @Zeus00-cant agree more with your comments, the subcontinent mentality (Chennai_Voice/Edassery) is clearly evident there! Crckt-Xprt-you are anything but an expert, ridiculously baseless criticism that!

  • Xpert on July 26, 2010, 6:07 GMT

    Harbhajan Singh ? Absolutely over-rated. This so called world class spinner does not merit a place in a street side cricket team forget playing for India. After Muralitharan, Harbhajan is the biggest fraud this game has seen.

  • Z on July 26, 2010, 5:21 GMT

    Folks like it or not, Harbhajan is India's #1 bowler, the only world class performer in the current bowling line-up. If he is fiery and aggressive, what's wrong with that? My observation is that his own countrymen seem to be unfairly critical of him, perhaps because the typical Indian fan can't relate to that sort of passionate, in-your face approach to the game. If Bhajji doesn't perform well in one game, people start whining and grunting, that's quite bizarre and uncalled for. In international sport, when you have countries that play tough like Australia and South Africa, soft-hearted players just get trampled. Remember it is players like Dhoni, Sehwag and Harbhajan (apart from Sachin obviously) that make the Indian side exciting to watch, and gets them respect from their opponents. Traditionally, Indian cricket has been known to lack the killer instinct, and has produced more match-savers than match-winners, but you guys definitely need someone like Harbhajan to usher in a new era.

  • Muthukrishnan on July 26, 2010, 3:00 GMT

    Harbhajan is a piece of joke sitting in Indian squad with so much of hype. All he can do is to show is ugly face to opponents in the name of aggression. I dont know when is going to learn what it takes to be a great player from the likes of Sachin, Dravid, etc. Empty vessel always makes noise. He is such a guy!

  • Ajith Prasad on July 26, 2010, 2:45 GMT

    Mahela has been awesome in slips like Dravid kept guard of the slips for Kumble.

    As for Harbhajan Singh, what he probably meant is that - since bowlers like Zaheer Khan is not there - the little worry they have is only with Bajji. But I feel that he's a pretty overrated bowler. He is there in the team, just because India doesn't have better younger spinners at the moment. However, of late, his batting has come to the rescue a couple of times and if he does that consistently he can be considered an all rounder at the tail.

    Over aggression of the Sardarji doesn't do any good to him either - At 30, he should have more maturity than making himself look like a fool most times.

  • Neil on July 26, 2010, 2:21 GMT

    What is the need for ranking in Test Cricket? It is useless. To obtain a good ranking each Test-playing nation should play evry Test-playing nation at home and away within a certain period of time. This is next to impossible with Twenty20 and ODIs taking center stage. Bangladesh is never going to play Test matches in India because there is no money in it for the BCCI. That leaves a contest out. Even if they look at the performances over 4 years which gives enough time for each country to play the others it still is not going to work out. Strengths of teams might change, a team can get lucky, matches can be washed out, etc.

    Do away with the rankings? All these years we didn't have any ranking system. So, why now?

  • uma on July 26, 2010, 0:05 GMT

    India doesnt hav a quality bowler in contention to replace bhajji. bhajji is not so good bowler but domestic guys r not good either. there may be guys slightly better than bhajji. but selector cant experiment as bhajji is experienced. If there is a spinner found with immence talent, surely he will take bhajjis position!! by the way OHJA is best bowler of india as of now. check his internaltional performances with other spinners like bhajji, mishra, ramesh powar, ashwin etc..

  • P on July 25, 2010, 23:54 GMT

    SL should enjoy the win while it lasted. India are not going to lose again. Not against SL and not in this test series.

  • milton on July 25, 2010, 21:37 GMT

    gud article. mahela is leading catcher to the same bowler.' c mehela b muralidharan' is over now. sad that murali is no more. a real legend. no one replaces him. the 2nd test wud b interesting. bcoz neither the teams have their strike bowlers. as both teams depends much upon their bowlers. slightly ind looks upperhand in terms of batting.

  • Philip on July 25, 2010, 21:32 GMT

    Mahela, you are absolutely right in saying that we need to target Harbajan. Murali had been targeted so many times by teams to take control. Bhaji is such a dangerous bowler. The best spinner that they have and we need to recognise that. The Indian Batting is strong too. You just need two of the them to get going earlier on then the others will build up. There is plenty of exerience backing those. SRT is a class act. He is another one to watch closely. Fielding at slips. Sure, you are not going tobe getting those chances as you did with Murali. Keep those catches coming Mahela. Your fielding is top drawer stuff. Cannot thinking of anyone in the present system who can match you. Your captaincy was astute too. A shame that you stepped down. I truly believe that you are the best captain that we have had since AR. Philip Gnana, New Malden, Surrey

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