November 1, 2011

Our mental approach has let us down

The Pakistan bowling attack has tested Sri Lanka in the first two Tests. Now the Sri Lankan batsmen must figure a way to score off them

We haven't played to our potential. Obviously going one-down in the series is a big disappointment, but I think we have an opportunity to get back into it, so we cannot be down for long. We have to try to correct our mistakes and turn things around.

On the first day in Dubai we felt our decision to bat was a 50-50 pick, because there was a bit of grass and maybe a touch of moisture. We thought it was a challenge we needed to take - batting first to make sure we got runs on the board, because we knew by the fourth or fifth day there would be deterioration of which we could take advantage. But we lost lost too many wickets on the first day and it was difficult for us to get back into the Test. Looking at how the wicket behaved over the last two days, I think the decision we took to bat first was correct. The important thing is to put runs on the board in the first innings.

I thought all four of Pakistan's bowlers had a role to play in the second Test. Each of them has picked up his game. Umar Gul, the most experienced bowler of the lot, did the damage in the first innings. Saeed Ajmal, being a spinner, controlled things in the second, getting help from the wicket. But I think the guy who has impressed most of us is left-arm fast bowler Junaid Khan. He hasn't played that much Test cricket but he knows what he is doing. He has impressed with the new and the old ball. Pakistan have a decent attack, and everyone's firing in their roles.

Our batsmen will have to individually come up with game plans to tackle the bowling and make sure we don't lose too many wickets in the middle period. Technically and tactically there are quite a few things we can do before the third Test. We will take stock of those and try to implement them in the practice sessions we have between the Tests, and make sure that everyone is fresh in the mind to go out and execute them.

I think the defeats definitely have to do with our mental approach. There's no doubt we have the talent and the ability. We need to apply ourselves and handle those tough situations better. Pakistan do attack in different situations with different bowlers, and we need to handle those situations better, especially in the first innings, to make sure we put runs on the board.

What has happened to us is that we are chasing the game after the second or third day, and it is quite tough to do that and win matches, or even get close to an opportunity. You can't be chasing the game after the first two days. We have to take control after the first day and then push the advantage home on the second day.

We managed to bowl Pakistan out in this Test, which I thought was a good effort. The bowlers showed a big improvement from the first Test: they hit good areas, created opportunities and troubled Pakistan quite a bit. The more matches these bowlers play, the more confidence they get. That's where we stand to gain. We need to keep encouraging them and make sure they keep improving.

An area where we need to spruce up is picking up early wickets. With the new ball, we manage to take one wicket, but we don't get those second and third wickets quickly. We need those early wickets to put pressure on the Pakistan middle order; keep things tight and not give them free scoring shots. We need to make sure we are disciplined. We have game plans for each batsman and we need to try to execute them better and in a more consistent manner.

As for my form, it has been just two Test matches in which I haven't been able to score. I had a good Test series against Australia and was in good nick in the one-dayers against them as well. I haven't hit my stride yet after coming here, and taken control of the opportunities. Pakistan have bowled pretty well to me and not given me any easy pickings. For me it is more a mental battle, trying to tackle these bowlers in a different way. I don't think it is a slump. I know there is a big responsibility on me to make sure the middle order stays stable, so I hope I can sort it out in the third Test.

The only way I can handle that is by not thinking too much about the added pressure or the responsibility but just focus on my game and make sure I do the little things right, which is what I have been doing for 13-14 years now.

Playing in the Middle East has been a good experience so far. It is a different sort of challenge with the conditions. But things have improved. The heat is not so bad now. The first couple of days in Abu Dhabi were pretty hot, but it has cooled down a bit.

I think conditions-wise, the wickets, the facilities have been brilliant. They have top-class facilities. It is a great place to play cricket in. I'm looking forward to the Test in Sharjah and the one-dayers that follow.

It is up to us to make sure we get back, play good cricket and try to turn the series around.

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