Sri Lanka v India, 3rd Test, PSS, Colombo, 4th day August 11, 2008

Teamwork does the trick for Sri Lanka


Mahela Jayawardene jumps for joy after Sri Lanka's victory © AFP
 
It began long before Mahela Jayawardene cut Sourav Ganguly's wide delivery for four to cue emotional scenes of victory. It started before Kumar Sangakkara found awe-inspiring determination to bat India out of the deciding Test. It started in Galle, when Sri Lanka allowed India to level the series. There began a fierce determination to defend a proud home record, and to show Sri Lanka could deliver under pressure.

"We need to figure out a way of controlling situations a bit better, especially under pressure and see how we can come out of it," was Jayawardene's assessment after a 170-run loss in the second Test. Sri Lanka handled that pressure, grabbed it by the throat, and turned it back on India.

This was a victory fashioned by tight bowling, led again by the indefatigable Ajantha Mendis on a tame pitch lacking movement, pace or bounce, a solid first innings moulded around gritty batting from Sangakkara and an effortless partnership chasing a small total. But at the heart of it was a reliance on each individual's ability to step forward, a trait Jayawardene has spoken of all series.

Sri Lanka had played good cricket right through, starting with a "perfect performance" at the SSC, and culminating in a comprehensive eight-wicket win here. The blip in Galle, which Jayawardene still acknowledged as competitive cricket, only fuelled the urge to come back. "It was a hard series, which drained a lot out of us, but this team showed a lot of character to come back after the Galle Test," Jayawardene said. "We kept standards high, we kept pushing ourselves, and we never gave up. The difference between the teams was that we had different contributions from key players."

Who can argue with that? Malinda Warnapura's runs in all three matches, Thilan Samaraweera's consistency, Tillakaratne Dilshan's brilliance in the field, Chaminda Vaas' 47 as a nightwatchman, Sangakkara's patient hundred, and Dammika Prasad's shot of pace - all were key ingredients to Sri Lanka's success. Had India scored a hundred more runs in the first innings, the outcome of this match could have been different. However, India's famed middle order again came a cropper. Vaas went wicketless while Murali was nowhere near his best, but Prasad and Mendis bowled with guile and accuracy to rock the boat.

Today, hope flickered for India through a dour partnership between Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, but it was emphatically snuffed out a half hour before lunch. Once again, Mendis had struck. His first spell didn't yield a wicket, but he returned from around the stumps to dislodge Dravid by probing away around his off stump. Dravid had looked in good groove but denied length, he was forced to play at a perfect delivery and was neatly help at slip by Jayawardene. He stood a few seconds, looking from catcher to umpire, before walking off.

India's Fab Four scrapped 554 runs between them in 24 innings. That Sri Lanka managed to contain that line-up was remarkable. "The credit should go to the bowling unit for keeping India under a total of 329 in the whole series," Jayawardene said. "We were up against a really good challenge and our guys went really hard at them and kept the pressure going. That's how we managed to put a lot of pressure on the Indians."

Showing the way was Mendis, who has been instrumental in allowing the opposition just one hundred in the series. "For us it's important to have someone like Ajantha," Jayawardene said. "He creates opportunities and adds pressure and picks up wickets. It gives a different dimension [to the team]."


Ajantha Mendis, who took a record 26 wickets in his debut series, was the architect of Sri Lanka's triumph © AFP
 
The emergence of Mendis has been a revelation. Murali has never had a spinning partner of his pedigree and Mendis is an enthusiastic supporter of the veteran, willing to be the workhorse without sacrificing his intensity or guile. No surprise then that Murali has backed Mendis to extend his Test career. He gave more freebies today than he had before, but was accurate enough to keep the batsmen playing and guessing.

Mendis' stock continues to rise, and he has been the lynchpin of Sri Lanka's series success. Pushed into the dual responsibilities of containing and striking in his debut series, he plugged away enthusiastically, obtaining turn and bounce. His 26 wickets were an outstanding return for a bowler in his debut series. He was, in every manner of speaking, the difference between the two teams.

This is a massive win for Sri Lanka, and definitely counts as one of their most satisfactory. Sanath Jayasuriya's departure left a massive void to be filled, and though Michael Vandort failed this series, his success over the last year means that he deserves an extended run. Warnapura was solid, scoring a hundred and two fifties. Sri Lanka didn't have solid starts, but the top order came good. Jayawardene and Trevor Bayliss have repeatedly stressed on how crucial their openers have and will be for Sri Lanka.

The contrasting body language spoke volumes when play resumed after tea. Eight of 11 Indians walked out after tea with their heads drooping, some loping in pairs, a few more lugging weary feet across the hard grass. Not ten yards to their left, Jayawardene strutted out with purpose and jogged the last few feet to the pitch, with Warnapura opening his shoulders a few feet behind.

The difference was plain to see: Sri Lanka needed 77 to win the series with an entire four sessions left, and India had blown a great chance to win their first series in the country. 17.1 overs later, after Jayawardene hit the winning runs, the excitement was blatant. He leapt in the air before the ball reached the ropes, a distinct war cry echoing across the ground, and he embraced Warnapura in a massive bear hug. This was what he had come here to play for, and his side had succeeded.

That they did that brilliantly was credit to a work ethic instilled by Jayawardene, who epitomises an evolving Sri Lankan side, and his faith in players who commit themselves brilliantly. They have been a different side since Jayawardene turned their fortunes in England two summers ago. All that has transpired since then - the nail-biting thriller against South Africa in 2006, the World Cup, the captain's mantras while they struggled in Australia last year, the hard work done before this Test - is reason for Sri Lanka's success today.

Sri Lanka are stuck in a moment and don't want to get out of it. If you open your window, you may still hear Jayawardene roaring.

Jamie Alter is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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