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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • I on July 17, 2012, 18:51 GMT

    @Sinhaya No idea what you're on about mate. Have you forgotten what happens to your side when you get a dozen decisions go against you? I'll explain - it makes the opposition look "destined" to win. Average cricket + medicore umpiring handed SL the series win, simple as that

  • Dummy4 on July 17, 2012, 5:51 GMT

    we needed a series win desperately but we should have tried bit more. at least should have sent thisara and see

  • Dummy4 on July 17, 2012, 3:12 GMT

    You are a such good leader... Go ahead with your own way.. If we lost the 3rd test ..critics would have been so different.... Team SL need a great captain like you.. armchair critics will never come to an end..& useful .. A tough series (India) ahead us.. Get ready ur Boys and be on the winning way.. Cheers

  • Randika on July 16, 2012, 10:46 GMT

    @maddy20: Being quite the expert you've rationalized 270 as being just over 250 and chasing that at 4.5 runs an over should have been achieved with ease in home conditions.. Can you point out other such occasions from the illustrious and long history of test cricket? TEST CRICKET? No you cannot. This being the last day of a long long series, having already won it, I wouldn't blame Mahela for playing it safe a bit. I was dissapointed yes, but I will trust his judgement on the course to take the SL team over mine or yours anyday of the week

  • Satish on July 16, 2012, 10:35 GMT

    Am not sure what makes Mahela say this.. He just hampered his own reputations.. Yes it is a fifth day pitch but a played like a second or third day one.. Plus, they were in very comfortable position by tea and had some of big hitters who proved in shorter format and also some guys who can shut shop later if the aggressive approach fails and saves the game.. It would have been a risk worth taken.. Personally thought Mahela missed a trick..

  • Dummy4 on July 16, 2012, 9:41 GMT

    @ Sandun very few people remember Cardiff - as i remember what happened there I agree that the approach SL took was the right one.

  • Varuna on July 16, 2012, 8:31 GMT

    Congratulations to Mahela for leading the team to this series win. The way you have explained your decision to give up on chasing that target is admirable. The hopes of millions in Sri Lanka against one and half hours of entertaining but risky cricket. Lets move on. Wish you and the team all the very best in the series against India

  • V.L on July 16, 2012, 7:15 GMT

    If you cannot chase a little over 250 at 4 runs per over on your home turf, then you have to make silly excuses like this to save face.

  • Dummy4 on July 16, 2012, 6:07 GMT

    defensive skipper...they rare happy in draw...

  • Tim on July 16, 2012, 5:15 GMT

    Excellent article, especially putting us mere spectators into perspective. We aren't out in the middle, the "what if's" are just that, they are what if. What if they did this, or what if they did that. In the end, the series was won, our first ever since Murali departed. That in itself is an achievement. Sri Lanka went in as the underdogs, and prevailed in both true forms of the game. Sri Lanka is slowly building, and I can't wait to watch them when they come out here to Australia. There is a big chance that they can win the series. They are no longer the sub-continent specialists, and the last one day series here proved that they can play on bouncier wickets. Chandimal will have a good series here, he seemed to have loved the bounce and pace that the Aussies bowled at him. Then when he went back to the low, slow pitches of Sri Lanka he struggled. Interesting few months coming up for Sri Lanka, indeed.

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