November 27, 2011

We need to put the Pakistan series behind us

It has been a disappointing outing for Sri Lanka in the UAE, but we've got to look ahead to South Africa

The UAE tour was frustrating because we had our opportunities but didn't convert them - especially in the fourth and fifth ODIs. In the fifth match we didn't hold onto our chances, while Pakistan had a couple of good partnerships and finished it off. We needed to be consistent with the momentum.

The pitch conditions are pretty similar to Sri Lanka, of course, but we were up against a very good bowling unit, who have a lot of variations. In the middle period it's tough to build a foundation if you keep losing wickets; and Pakistan's attacking combination relentlessly picked up wickets.

The new Powerplay rules create new scenarios. After the first 10 overs there is a gap of five overs, following which the fielding captains usually take the bowling Powerplay. This shifts the momentum because after the first 10 overs, the fielders go back. If you're batting well you try to hold on to your wicket because the next Powerplay might come any time soon, and that puts the fielding captain in a bit of a quandary whether to take it or not.

The batting Powerplay, between the 36th and 40th over, makes a huge difference. Even if you've lost just two or three wickets, you don't want to take too many risks because losing a few wickets would affect your momentum going into the last 10 overs. At the same time, it's a Powerplay and you need to score quickly.

I think you'll see scores coming down with the new Powerplay rules. Under the previous rule, teams kept wickets in hand and accelerated in the last five overs, in which they could get about 60 or more runs. Now teams get a maximum of 30-40 runs. With the field back in the last 10 overs you need power hitters to clear the ropes. The Powerplays and having a different ball at either end contribute towards making it an even game between bat and ball. It's a good challenge but teams will take some time to adjust to the new rules.

In the third ODI, I got out very early in the batting Powerplay. That slowed us down because it's difficult for a new batsman to get going immediately. Angelo [Mathews] had a couple of good overs but when [Dinesh] Chandimal got out in the last over of the Powerplay, Angelo had to restrict himself and make sure he stayed till the end.

In the fourth ODI, as soon as we saw the wicket we knew it was going to be a low-scoring game and that it was going to be difficult to bat against the spinners. Kumar [Sangakkara] and I had a very good partnership and it looked easy since we needed three-four runs an over. But when he got out, we lost a few more wickets. It's tough for the tailenders against spinners of that quality. I made a mistake as well; I was in two minds - whether to take chances or bat till the end. But credit goes to the Pakistan bowlers. They smelt an opportunity and were ruthless.

Looking at the bigger picture, we have a few youngsters coming through and we need to have faith in them. You still need to consider Angelo a youngster, although he has quite a bit of experience. The other promising ones are Chandimal and Jeevan Mendis. In one-day cricket particularly, we need to strike a balance between youth and experience, though there might be occasions when we need to fall back on the experienced lot until the youngsters get more confident. In Tests we need to place more faith in the experienced players.

Tillakaratne Dilshan has taken up a tough job as captain. It has not been easy because we have a reasonably new bowling attack and the selectors have picked a lot of youngsters. You need to give him time. At the same time Dilshan needs to think of his value as a batsman as well. Unfortunately he has had a lean period with the bat, which could affect his captaincy. He is capable of coming through these challenges and has done a decent job so far.

South Africa are going to be a bigger challenge mentally. We have to put this Pakistan series behind us. We cannot ride on what happened in the Middle East, take that extra baggage on board and think everything will turn around in South Africa. We need to play to our strengths and take positives from the Pakistan series.

Regarding my knee injury, I need two weeks of rest with medication. After that I will start a slow running programme and should be fit before the first Test in South Africa.

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

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