Sri Lanka v India, 2nd Test, Galle July 30, 2008

Jayawardene banks on familiar conditions

Mahela Jayawardene averages a Bradmanesque 99.21 in Galle © AFP
Galle has been something of a fortress for Sri Lanka: they have lost just one of their last nine Tests here since July 2000. Both Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara have spoken of the fact that having fewer Test venues in the country gives Sri Lanka an advantage, as they know the conditions better. Six wins from 12 matches in Galle, with just two defeats, sums up that confidence.

The only two teams to beat Sri Lanka in Galle, Pakistan and Australia, did so because they managed massive totals. In 2000 Pakistan scored 600 for 8 and won by an innings and 163 runs. In 2004 Australia faced a 161-run deficit but made 512 in their second innings to win the match by 197 runs.

Sri Lanka's strategy at home has always been simple: put up a large total and hand it over to Muttiah Muralitharan and Chaminda Vaas. For the statistically inclined, several of Sri Lanka's players love batting here, with the Indian Ocean breeze on their backs. Jayawardene averages a Bradmanesque 99.21, with four hundreds; Sangakkara - the only one not to cash in at the SSC - averages 53.91 with a pair of hundreds; and Tillakaratne Dilshan averages 44.

"These are the conditions that you grow up with," said Jayawardene. "I've enjoyed batting in any condition but I have a liking for SSC and Galle. I don't know ... maybe it's because of the fans or the atmosphere.

"This being one of our famous grounds, it's good to have it back in this condition," Jayawardene said. "England (last year) was the first Test that we played after about four years. We were very keen to come back and play here because of the support we get from the local crowd. A lot of our cricketers have hailed from the southern part of the country so there is a lot of tradition and passion."

Before the tsunami of 2004 demolished the old ground, the majority of Sri Lanka's six wins were engineered by Murali, who took 87 wickets in those games. And as Jayananda Warnaweera, the curator who has virtually lived all his life at the stadium, pointed out on the eve of this Test, this is a spin-friendly track.

Murali has always loved playing in Galle, and 51 of his 91 Test wickets here have come in victories. He troubled the Indian batsmen in the only Test played between the two at Galle in 2001, taking eight wickets to inspire a 10-wicket victory. As repeatedly stressed, the pressure from Ajantha Mendis, who proved an able ally at the SSC, will offer India little respite.

Dammika Prasad's call-up to a squad of 15 was seen in some circles as pressure on Chaminda Vaas, but Jayawardene said Sri Lanka will not change their XI from Colombo. Spin is certainly Sri Lanka's strength but Jayawardene credited Vaas' success in similar conditions as key against India in this Test.

"When you have two quality spinners in your side they try and play a big part. But we want to create more opportunities with our pacers as well," he said. "That is something that we've spoken in our meetings, to see what kind of opportunities we could create from the fast bowlers. Vaas is a quality act altogether but he couldn't come into the game the other day [at the SSC].

"He loves these kind of conditions and he has taken most of his wickets is such conditions. If we can get him into the party as well it will be very good for us." Vaas had a solid outing here against England and another crucial performance could be a lifeline after a listless display at the SSC.

Jayawardene reckoned that the pitch would be similar to that at the SSC. "The pitch will probably turn on the fourth and fifth days, but it depends on the weather as well," he said. "If it is affected by rain there won't be that much time for the pitch to deteriorate. We would like to wrap it up here, that's our plan."

When Sri Lanka played England here, there was a fair bit of rain around and the pitch had some moisture in it - which was why England negated Murali's threat and escaped with a draw - but this one appears dry, very much like what the teams got in Colombo.

Both Jayawardene and Trevor Bayliss, Sri Lanka's coach, were wary of India's recent record of bouncing back from poor starts to series but there was no mistaking the tone of assuredness in Jayawardene's assessment of the opposition. "We definitely asked them some questions [at the SSC] and they didn't have the answers," he said. "We'll have to find out whether they have the answers yet. If they have, we'll start asking different questions."

Like India, Sri Lanka need to win this match but for them the pressure is far less after Colombo and unlike their opposition, they go into this Test on a wave of confidence.

Jamie Alter is a staff writer at Cricinfo