August 13, 2010

'We've got our World Cup squad more or less in place'

There were a lot of positives from the Test series; now the focus shifts to the tri-series, and a lot of emphasis will be on the big one, six months away

Having played the kind of Test we did at the P Sara Oval, I wonder why people want to change Test cricket. It's sort of like the way, not only with cricket, but in day-to-day life, people start talking about something and then forget it four or five days later. You have to know that people are going to talk about the feasibility of Test cricket and then also look forward to the next Test match.

Some Tests might not seem result-oriented, but people put hard work into those games as well. To score 600 runs is not easy, even on batting tracks. A lot of hard work and concentration is needed. Sometimes batsmen get it easy, sometimes it is tough. You have to appreciate everything, not just one aspect. Pure Test cricket lovers will enjoy whatever is on offer, and it is just some who don't have the patience to watch the long game who start talking about the need for Twenty20 and one-dayers. Real cricket fans enjoy Test cricket because they know how much hard work goes into it, even when there is no result.

That said, we are disappointed with the final result, a 1-1 drawn series. We played some really good cricket throughout the series, but in the last Test, perhaps the last two days or the last three or four sessions, we were outplayed and India came back in the series. We had our opportunities more than the Indians did, but we let them back in.

In the first innings we had batsmen getting starts and throwing their wickets away. We probably should have scored another 150. When India were batting we dropped a couple of chances at crucial times. Their last three added 86 runs, and that is where the momentum shifted. That dropped chance off Amit Mishra made a huge difference, otherwise we probably would have got a crucial lead. We didn't capitalise on those opportunities. The way we batted in the second innings, losing five or six wickets for 80, was not good enough. We knew it was going to be tough on that wicket, so we were positive, but we were also reckless at times.

Suraj Randiv's performance on those last two days was a huge positive. We knew he had potential, but with Muttiah Muralitharan leaving Test cricket, and for Suraj to come in, we knew it was not going to be easy. The expectations were high, but he has managed it really well. He bowled really well throughout the two Tests he played. He is a bowler who can create opportunities even when the pitch is not turning, with his bounce. When the wicket provides assistance, like we saw on the fifth day, he can be really effective. He will learn from here. It was a huge occasion for him, playing at the highest level, staking his claim to be the No.1 spinner in Sri Lanka.

Even though India probably didn't have their best bowling attack, they had their best batting line-up. We knew it would be tough, but we played some good cricket. The way we batted through the series, except for the last innings, was very good, very consistent. The bowlers were really good under tough conditions too.

Murali will definitely come into play as we get closer to the World Cup. We thought that he had had a long season and needed a break after the Test retirement

Now we get on the road to the World Cup. Starting with the tri-series, not just us but other teams too will be trying to get their final combinations right. They will try a few things here and there before they make their decisions for the World Cup.

This tri-series is an important tournament in itself, against two top teams. You don't want to look at the World Cup at the expense of winning matches. You always want to win. The winning habit, the momentum, is a good thing.

We have more or less sorted out the 17-18 players out of whom the squad of 15 for the World Cup will be picked. Openings are few and far between. Perhaps the second allrounder's spot, to go with Angelo Mathews, is open. One more spinning option, and maybe a fast-bowling spot, are the ones people will be fighting for.

Murali will definitely come into play as we get closer to the World Cup. We have two more series, against Australia and West Indies. Then we have our domestic one-day competition as well. Murali will come into that. It's just that we thought he had had a long season and needed a break after the Test retirement. We know exactly what Murali brings to the party, so we don't need to wonder about him.

Dambulla is a great venue; just that conditions are tough under the lights. But there are always challenges. We are going to play at two brand-new venues, Pallekelle and Hambantota in the World Cup. R Premadasa (Colombo) is being completely redone. The pitch might not change, but the atmosphere will be different. So there can be surprise elements even for us. It's all about these kinds of challenges, and we are looking forward to them.

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