Happy the win overshadowed my milestone
It's been a long wait and we finally did it. What we did in Durban showed a lot of character as a team and shows that we can improve. It's something sweet and we want to build on that.
After Centurion we sat down and had a good chat about how we wanted to go about our cricket. We knew the conditions were going to be tough in South Africa but we felt that we didn't give ourselves a chance there. On that surface, we had opportunities where we could have put South Africa under pressure and we did not. We had a good, hard look at our performances individually and where we need to be stronger, be more competitive and be more ruthless. We also had two good sessions in Centurion. It was hard work but everyone felt that we needed to put that work in.
The areas that we spoke about after that game are where we improved quite a bit in Durban. Batting wise, we put runs on the board, especially in the first innings. We knew a competitive score could put pressure on the South African batsmen, which it did. The bowlers bowled in the areas which we had spoken about. Even though pitches are bit bouncier here, the areas that you can get batsmen out are pretty similar anywhere in the world. We hit those areas really well. We created opportunities and we held on to chances. It was a very satisfying win.
The two batsmen who scored centuries for us, Thilan [Samaraweera] and [Kumar] Sangakkara, played really special innings. They were patient and they built partnerships. Thilan's first innings knock was crucial for us. He batted very well under pressure, and answered a lot of the people back home as well. It was critical to get that big start for us in the first innings. Sanga was disappointed with the way he got out in the first few innings in South Africa and, when he was given that lifeline on the third morning, he grabbed his opportunity and batted beautifully. Both these guys are experienced players, they will handle situations and fight and not let it go when they get a second chance.
Dinesh [Chandimal] was the other big factor for us. He showed a lot of character, brought a lot of youth into the team and he didn't show any nerves. He batted beautifully at No. 7, where you have to be more aggressive, and kept wickets really impressively. He looked comfortable playing Test cricket and he has a very exciting future ahead of him.
Personally, I was quite happy to bring up 10,000 Test runs. I set myself goals and this is something which I set a couple of years back. To get there made me very proud, although I was also disappointed and frustrated that I was not able to make a bigger personal contribution with the bat, especially after getting a good start in the first innings. I'm frustrated to have been short of big runs recently and I'm working extremely hard to turn that around. I am also happy that the milestone got overshadowed because it was more important to win in South Africa. At the end of the day, winning is what matters most and sharing the joy of a Test victory with your team-mates gives you the most satisfaction as a player.
I also want to mention the Man of the Match Rangana Herath, who was fantastic in both innings. In the first innings, he bowled the right areas, created opportunities and did that holding role brilliantly. In the second innings, he had a bit of assistance from the wicket but he still did well. He proved that he is a class act and he's been very consistent for us in recent months. What he showed in Durban is that he is a match-winner when we can get enough runs on the board.
I played in the match at the Oval in 1998, which was the first time we beat England in England. I'd say the Durban match is of equal importance because to win away from home is not an easy thing. Every team cherishes those moments. For me to be part of the team that won for the first time in South Africa is something special. All these moments are fantastic and very valuable for us.
When we arrived in South Africa, we said our goal was to win a Test here, but now that we have done that we want to win the series here in beautiful Cape Town. That's how you progress as a team: you set yourself little goals and try and achieve that. After what we achieved in Durban, anything is possible for us. It's all about how we are going to go about things on the day, create pressure and do the little things right.
Lastly, a message to the Sri Lanka fans: Happy New Year. I know the past year has been difficult for Sri Lankan supporters. The disappointment of losing the World Cup final still hurts as a player and I am sure it still does for the fans too. Although everyone knows we are trying to build the team again and move forward, the long losing streak afterwards has been tough for everyone. Thank-you to all those who have been behind us, cheering and encouraging us. The team really appreciates the special support we get. We are working extremely hard and hopefully our Durban win can become the mini turning-point that boosts confidence and helps bring us greater success in 2012.
Former Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene is the country's leading Test run-scorer