December 14, 2011

We need to play the Sri Lankan brand of cricket

Doing well in South Africa will be about facing the challenge head on and playing the natural, aggressive game Sri Lanka are known for

We don't tour South Africa that often, so when we get an opportunity, it's a big occasion for us. The South African team has played some really good cricket. They've got some really good fast bowlers, and a good spinner now in Imran Tahir. As a unit they are very potent. We want to take the challenge upon us to try and do something different and win a Test match here. We've come close a few times but we haven't got over the line yet, so that is a major goal for us - to try and win a Test match.

To do that, we've got to try and do the processes right. There are a lot of little things we need to focus on. As a team, we have to be consistent in all departments. We've let ourselves down in a few of the Test matches in the last six months, because we haven't batted well or we haven't been able to bowl teams out twice. We need to try and get that all-round consistency going.

If you analyse it, we haven't been beaten that badly in Tests this year. We had one terrible session in Cardiff in England and lost the series 0-1, but we fought well at Lord's and the Rose Bowl. Against Australia we lost 0-1; we had our opportunities to beat them in the last Test match and we couldn't finish it off. Against Pakistan we had one really poor day and lost the series.

I'm not denying we were outplayed by England, Australia and Pakistan, or claiming their victories were undeserved. Ultimately they played the better cricket and were worthy winners. I'm just highlighting that in six Test matches we fought well and competed. The issue is that we haven't been consistent, and that has been our main problem. Turning it around will not be easy, but from our perspective the only approach to take is to keep building on the positives and try and keep improving.

At the moment we are trying to smooth our transition. For the senior players, it's an important challenge to try to get right. Kumar was exceptional against Pakistan, but both Dilshan and I were disappointed to not have contributed more. Our performances matter because we have to try and take as much pressure off the younger players as we can.

For the batsmen especially, this tour is going to be a tough challenge. Unfortunately for them, we have played England, Australia, Pakistan, South Africa, who are among the top teams in the world right now. But they will learn from this and it will be a big investment for us for the future. Quite a few of them have shown improvement over the last six to eight months. I know they feel more confident now. Hopefully they are heading in the right direction.

In South Africa the conditions will be particularly challenging, but we know what we are up against. Technically you need to sort yourself out a bit.

For the youngsters it's all about confidence. They have to try and play their natural game and not get overwhelmed by the occasion or the conditions or the opposition. Everyone is talented, that's why they are here. So they have to back themselves to go out there and enjoy the game - simple as that.

As it stands now, we've had different batsmen performing at different times. In England, Prasanna Jayawardene got a hundred; Sanga got a hundred right at the end; and Dilshan got a good hundred at Lord's. Against Australia I got a hundred and Angelo Mathews got a hundred. We've had different guys performing individually, but now we need to perform as a unit and get big runs in the first innings of a Test match. The batting unit has to try and take more responsibility, especially the senior guys.

It's about building a team together and not being over-reliant on the senior players. For example, Mathews is probably heading in the right direction. He is somebody who will probably take that mantle forward and try to be a leader. We've got a couple of other young guys coming through the system, and they need time to settle down. Until such time, it's up to the senior players to try to take the team forward.

When it comes to bowling, I am not worried. We've got the talent and we've got the variety. We've been around Murali for too long and depended on him, but it's time the rest of the boys bowled as a unit and created opportunities. These guys have done that, against England and Australia, but they haven't been able to finish it off. The more games they play, the more they will learn how to finish it off and take those five-fors and six-fors and win matches.

Unfortunately Nuwan Pradeep has broken down again, so we are down to our minimum with squad members. The other three guys, Dhammika Prasad, Nuwan Kulasekara and Shaminda Eranga, are doing fitness tests this week, so hopefully we will get a replacement.

Overall, I would say we need to back ourselves to be more aggressive and to play the brand of cricket that we are known to play, which is strokeplay and being flamboyant. Sometimes that sort of approach can change the match in a couple of hours. We need to go back to that and we have the capacity to do that.

Whatever was said before we've arrived, we've heard, and it's great motivation for us to try to make those comments disappear. We've have waited for so long to come here and play cricket so it's a good opportunity for us as well.

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