July 14, 2012

Didn't want to jeopardise our hard work

Mahela Jayawardene on why Sri Lanka decided to settle for a draw in Pallekele, and the factors that helped his side beat Pakistan

Some people have argued that we weren't ambitious enough to push for a win in the Pallekele Test to seal the series 2-0 instead of 1-0. We would have loved to finish with a memorable victory, but unfortunately that was not possible in the end. Nevertheless, we came out on top against Pakistan, who had beaten the No.1 Test side in the world (England) 3-0, by playing positive cricket in tough situations. Nobody gave us a chance, even in the one-day series. I still remember the press conference at the start of the series, when a couple of Pakistan journalists asked Misbah-ul-Haq if they were going to win the series 3-0, 3-1 or 4-1. Even before the Test series nobody gave us a chance.

Our mindset was to win but 270 is always a challenging target. We told the openers to bat positively. Tharanga Paranavitana batted with intent. We always knew that if it didn't materialise, we could always fall on our backup plan and save the game. We had asked Dinesh Chandinal to play his natural game. As soon as he did that, Pakistan went on the defensive. We batted really well until tea, but Chandimal suffered a brain freeze. We still had 30 odd overs left with around four and a half runs per over needed. Importantly, we couldn't lose too many wickets because we had to get into a position where we could accelerate. It was important for me to bat those ten overs with Kumar (Sangakkara), and when the rate increased to more than five an over with 23-24 overs remaining we thought we could push it.

When I went to bat, the idea was to play at least ten overs without losing wicket. But we failed to rotate the strike because Pakistan bowled really well. When they set negative fields, we decided not to risk it either. They were 0-1 down and everything to play for. If we had needed around 90 runs at just under six an over, we would have promoted Thisara Perera. When you are up against a quality bowling attack like Pakistan's, if you give them a sniff, they could run through the batting. We had to ensure we cut out unnecessary risks, because we played close to 15 days of grueling Test cricket.

I don't want to argue with armchair critics who give their views on what we should or shouldn't have done. I had to make a decision for millions in Sri Lanka who haven't experienced a Test series win for nearly three years
Mahela Jayawardene

We had done a lot to get to the position that we were in. I don't want to argue with armchair critics who give their views on what we should or shouldn't have done. I had to make a decision for millions in Sri Lanka who haven't experienced a Test series win for nearly three years. When I took over as captain, my job was to get the ship back on track. Slowly but surely, we are winning matches, executing our game plans and a young team is taking greater responsibility. I didn't want to rattle that because of what a few people want me to do. Obviously, common sense prevailed. I didn't want to jeopardise the hard work put in by this bunch for an hour and a half of Twenty20 cricket.

Pakistan, to their credit, batted really well on the fifth day. The way the two youngsters, Azhar Ali and Asad Shafiq batted, was commendable.

There were several factors that clinched the series for us. Over the last few months, we've been trying hard to get that winning mentality back. If you see the two bowling attacks, there was a gulf. Pakistan's was much more experienced and talented. We had injuries to the seamers Chanaka Welegedera and Suranga Lakmal before the Tests began so I had to work with the bowlers we had. Rangana Herath and Nuwan Kulasekara hadn't played Test cricket for some time. We had to come up with a different game plan on different surfaces. Our batsmen were put under pressure by their bowlers in certain situations and I thought they did well.

The way we handled Saeed Ajmal was a key factor. We didn't give him too many opportunities. He dominates teams more often than not, taking in excess of 20 wickets in a three-Test series, but he took 15 against us. A few of those were our tailenders, not our main batsmen. Junaid Khan is a much-improved young bowler and he troubled most of our top batsmen.

Regarding the state of our middle order, I wouldn't want to tinker too much with the Test line-up. We go to Australia at the end of the year. If we are going in with an inexperienced bowling unit, we need to balance it with an experienced batting group. I thought Thilan Samaraweera's role was crucial in this Test. He handled the swinging ball well and had a strong stand with Paranavitana, which set the platform for Thisara to attack. He hit two centuries in South Africa in very tough situations. We are trying to be flexible with Dinesh Chandimal, using him in different batting positions whenever necessary. We should let time decide, rather than rushing into anything drastic.

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