We have gone one-up on their bowlers
After our run of losses against Pakistan (coming into this tour), we had to have that self-belief that we could beat this team. Pakistan have a very good bowling unit which we did not do well against in the UAE.
In the Tests we will come up with a game plan to counter not just Saeed Ajmal but the others as well. Against a quality attack like Pakistan's we need to back ourselves to do well. In the last two Tests against England, we knew we had to take risks against certain bowlers and we need to do it against this unit too. I think as a batting unit we have gone one-up on their bowlers and we put their batting under pressure so it's going to be the same scenario in the Tests.
As for our Test bowling attack, Rangana Herath has taken up the responsibility of being the lone spinner very well. We need to give a lot of confidence to Suraj Randiv as he's a top-class bowler and hopefully this will be a breakthrough series for him. Plus Chanaka Welegedara has come of age. He has the experience to spearhead the attack. There is a bit more pressure on the seniors, Rangana and Chanaka, but I think the young bowlers will come through.
In the ODIs, we spoke about getting to a competitive score and putting them under pressure. We shifted the batting order. At the same time, our bowlers were very aggressive against their batsmen. We focused on picking up wickets rather than containing runs. Our fielding made a huge difference in the entire series. We knew we had to play our top game against this team consistently. Even when we did not play to our potential, we still managed to get on top of them.
We identified certain players who could handle certain situations better. We had spoken to a few about it and they were up for the challenge of batting in different positions. One of the guys is me (dropping to No. 5), because I know I can take that responsibility. Upul Tharanga went through a bad period opening the batting but we knew he's a quality player against spin especially so we used him into the middle order, where he averaged 55 in four or five games, got his confidence back and then returned to where he used to be. Lahiru Thirimanne is a guy who wants to bat between Nos 5-7. We feel his game is very adaptable to that situation as he has got a lot of strokes. We have kept Dinesh Chandimal at No.4 because we want him to grow into that role. Angelo Mathews is a finisher. We're blessed with a good number of left and right-handers, who we can use against certain opposition with their bowling attacks to our advantage. It's about getting that extra 10-15 runs on a given day.
The advice I'd give Angelo and Thisara Perera is to keep it simple and not put undue pressure on themselves. I have played the game long enough to realise that it's tough to repeat these performances day in and day out. As long as they keep enjoying their cricket, keep challenging themselves to improve, they will do it more often than not. They will have their failures down the line. They should keep a level-headed approach going forward.
However, there are certain aspects we need to improve on to be the No.1 one-day side. We still haven't been consistent in putting up big partnerships up front, so we can create a platform for our middle- and late-order batsmen to flourish. We also need to be better tactically with the new one-day rules. You tend to make mistakes in the Powerplay and lose wickets. We have experimented here and there. I think we are going back to a more conventional way of setting up a one-day game where you preserve wickets. The average score has come down from 300 to 230-240. We need to work on our ability to perform better away from home, which we did to some extent in Australia. In Sri Lanka, we now have a nucleus of different guys coming through. We bat deep, which is a plus in ODI cricket. We've always put in a lot of emphasis on our fielding. Thanks to our allrounders, we can use different combinations going forward depending on the opposition. In the last game, we took a tactical decision to bring in Jeevan (Mendis) as a spin allrounder and it paid off.
Regarding the pitches in the country, I don't think their character has changed to a great degree. Back when there was just one new ball, you would have a bit of movement for ten overs perhaps. Now, it's 20 overs and it makes a huge difference. If you lose two-three wickets the middle order will struggle against a decent pace attack. Now, teams tend to play more seamers than spinners. The Premadasa wicket has been more true, after being re-laid. It used to be on the slower side but now it has more pace and bounce. During the day it did a bit as well. It isn't just a batter's game anymore.
As for Pakistan, to be fair they played some good cricket. The two games in Colombo could have gone either way. In the fourth game they were in the game till the 35th over, where created opportunities, after which they folded under pressure. Like I've said, we handled the tough situations better than them.
Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene is the country's leading Test run-scorer