March 3, 2012

You need to fight Australia for every run

Sri Lanka did well to move on from the Hobart defeat, defending a modest target to qualify for the CB Series finals. Now the last hurdle

It would mean a lot for us to beat Australia in the finals over the coming week. We have not won a tri-series here before, although we did beat Australia 2-1 last time we toured, in 2010. You come into these tournaments wanting to win and it is brilliant to have achieved our first goal of reaching the finals, but the hard work is yet to come.

Australia are a tough opponent. They will come hard at us in the first final so it's important we keep calm and play our natural game. We have been handling the tough situations better than them in the past few matches and we need to keep doing that.

It has been a fun four weeks so far. This series has been a good challenge and the youngsters are really stepping up. Dinesh Chandimal has been right at the top of the list as far as consistency is concerned. He has handled tough situations really well and has been the standout among our younger guys. But everyone else has stepped up as well. Tillakaratne Dilshan has had a really good series, Kumar Sangakkara is back in his usual rhythm after a slow start, and Lahiru Thirimanne, who is still gaining experience, has shown he is a very competent player.

Our lower middle-order batsmen don't have as much experience as the top order but they are learning all the time. They might make the odd mistake here or there but they are still young and we need them to be able to handle tough situations. Then they can become very good long-term players for us. I'm backing them 100% to do the job.

The bowling unit has been very good as well. Lasith Malinga is leading the attack but a lot of guys - Rangana Herath, Nuwan Kulasekara, Farveez Maharoof, Thisara Perera - have performed at different times. It has been a real collective effort. I was especially happy with the way the bowlers bounced back after losing to India in Hobart.

After that match we had a ten-minute meeting and all I said to the boys was that we know we can play much better cricket and that we would not suddenly become a worse side because of that loss. Our bowling unit did not become a worse one overnight. Everyone moved on from that, which is what good teams do. To come back in the next game and defend 238 against Australia with two bowlers getting injured showed a lot of character. I'm very proud of them.

We lost both Thisara and Angelo Mathews to injury during Friday's game. Unfortunately Thisara will not be able to play in the finals because of his back injury and will probably fly back home, but Angelo seems to be okay, and Farveez, who missed the Melbourne game with a sore back, is also getting better. We will assess them before the first final and make a call.

We know it will be tough to beat Australia in the finals but we will go in confident because we have beaten them in the last three matches. To beat Australia you have to compete with them. You need to fight with them for each run, each wicket. That's what we have been doing, and we have handled some situations better than them. We haven't let them take the game away from us. It's very important when you play Australia that you don't let them loose. You have to keep at them all the time.

I think they will still be confident because the matches have been closely fought. They haven't been big wins for us. In any format, the start is very important - that's when the platform is built. We've managed to keep Australia's openers quiet so far and hopefully we can do that in the finals as well. We have kept our plans to them nice and simple - bowling straight and adapting well to different surfaces.

From a personal point of view, it has been a good challenge to captain my country again. It was a position I could not refuse. There was work to be done in the team, and I knew I should take on the responsibility. This has also been our first series with a new coach, Graham Ford, who has introduced some new things into the set-up. We have been really happy with the last four weeks, after starting out with two losses.

There have been some issues along the way, including when Lahiru was run out backing up too far against India. I think we and the Indians handled the situation well. I don't think Lahiru had been given a warning before it, but he was at fault. I spoke to him about the rule afterward and told him he was leaving the crease too early and he understood that. He is not taking off too early anymore. He knows he can take a small start but not take advantage of it.

We are also playing without the DRS in this series. I am a big fan of the DRS because I think we should use whatever technology we can to help the umpires and improve the decision-making process. I'd love to be using it in this tournament but the umpiring has been pretty consistent and we have been happy with it.

It is one of the many things players cannot change, so we are focusing on the things we can control. That is what we must do to beat Australia, which will be a very tough challenge.

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