June 30, 2011

Cook has my sympathies

Being an international captain is hard, especially of England, whose limited-overs side are, like ours, in a phase of rebuilding and rethinking

After a good win in Bristol in the Twenty20 on Saturday, we came back to earth with a bit of a bump in the first ODI at The Oval. But that's the thing when you play against top teams. If you make too many mistakes, they'll make sure you don't get back up, and unfortunately at 15 for 4, chasing 232, we were never in the contest.

We made too many mistakes in all departments, not just the batting. We started pretty well with the ball, but then, when play restarted after the thunderstorm, England scored about 110 runs in 10 overs, which was a big shift in momentum. We needed a good start with the bat, and a couple of big partnerships at the top, so that we could have wickets in hand to accelerate, but we didn't bat to a plan. They bowled really well and we didn't bat well enough.

There's been a lot of talk in the English media about James Anderson, particularly after the World Cup where he had a disappointing time and didn't play in our ten-wicket win in Colombo. But we've always known he's a quality performer. There will always be some days when you don't get it right, but more often than not the quality of these players will come out when it matters. We had to take chances chasing a big score, but he asked the right questions of us and got the rewards for his skill and accuracy.

As a former national captain, I had some sympathy for Alastair Cook in the days leading up to the match. It is tough on a guy like that, when he's getting beaten by the media before he's even taken charge of the team, although in the end it was a good first day in the job for him. The important thing is for him to realise going forward that his role in the team is not just as a captain. The most important thing for him is to get going and score the runs everyone knows he can make. That will help him settle.

It's early days for Cook and his team, and he needs time to find his feet. It's tough captaining any country, let alone England, where all your moves are going to be scrutinised day in and day out. But these are the challenges that modern-day cricketers face. Anyone in his role has to accept it as a good, positive challenge and give it a good shot.

On Tuesday night we said farewell to a legend of the game. Sanath Jayasuriya has had 20 years of amazing cricket. He has changed the way Sri Lanka play the game, and he's probably been the pioneer in revolutionising one-day cricket all around the world. When you take all that into account, and look at the records he's set over the last two decades, you have to marvel at his career.

As has happened to other greats in the past, the time finally came when he had to let go, and he did. It wasn't probably the best way for him to go out, but I thought it was strangely fitting. He hit his favourite cut shot, straight off the middle of the bat - but this time, sadly, straight to the fielder. He'll definitely be remembered as one of the legends of cricket.

Jayasuriya has changed the way Sri Lanka play the game, and he's probably been the pioneer in revolutionising one-day cricket all around the world

As a team we had a better day on Saturday, where we won convincingly, and from a personal point of view it was great to finally get some runs after a tough tour. I relished the opportunity to bat with a bit more freedom and play a few more shots, and it was an important chance to get back into the groove. The way we played as a team was very convincing. It was good fun.

There's only so much that can be read into a Twenty20 game, however. In that format you are always going to win some and lose some. If a team makes a couple of mistakes, it's very difficult to get back, as we found in the World Twenty20 in the Caribbean last year, when England beat us in the semi-final.

Their team had got into a really good rhythm in that tournament, but they've had to rebuild and rethink their line-up since. Likewise, in 50-over cricket we've had to do the same since the World Cup final in Mumbai, so you expect some blips along the way. You just have to look at it as a good investment, because the rewards will come in the future.

It was particularly good to see Lasith Malinga back in action for us, and his spell in the Twenty20 was quite brilliant. We all understand that he cannot sustain his pace in Test cricket because of the injuries he has suffered, but he uses his skills in such a productive way in the shorter formats. He creates pressure and picks up wickets in short bursts, and he's great ammunition to have anywhere in the world. He's so good at reading batsmen these days, and has developed so many different variations. He's a key part of our future in the shorter form of the game.

We learnt after the Bristol game that Stuart Law is moving on from Sri Lanka to take up the role of Bangladesh coach. It is a disappointment, in the sense that we would like some stability in our management group, but Sri Lanka Cricket have probably got other plans, and over the past 10-15 years they have been good at attracting quality coaches for three- or four-year stints. These kinds of things are out of our hands as players, but Stuey has been great. He's a wonderful cricketer. We've learnt a lot from his knowledge and what he has contributed, and we wish him all the best in Bangladesh.

Now we are heading off to Headingley for the second ODI, and hopefully Tillakaratne Dilshan can lead from the front once again after getting a bit unluckily in his comeback game at The Oval. He would have been fit for the Twenty20 but we didn't want to take a risk so soon after his recovery from a broken thumb. He is now 100% fit to bat, though having not played much cricket for the last few weeks, he'll take some time to get into the groove. But being in the dressing room and not playing cricket can be really annoying, so he's desperate to be involved again.

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