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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Wijendra on August 12, 2008, 12:20 GMT

    Sri Lanka simply outplayed India. Sri Lanka had the advantage of playing on home soil but this isnt an excuse for India. Again the middle order of India failed. Sri Lanka have kept up their team spirit and a lot more endurance is seen from the players. Young talent has been opportunities and have proven themselves.

  • DON on August 12, 2008, 11:44 GMT

    Great version, frankly the much appreciated result would be 3-0 as Indians were out of sorts throughout. The truth is that, nobody couldn't do anything when two spinners did damage like this. As per SivaramaKrishnan,Sri Lana could beat even Australia on regular basis with this combination. As you very rightly say Vandot needs another go as he is one of the rear talents and this is being is one off failure after sizable number of matches. Now S.L should try and dominate in foreign soils as well on regular basis, for that the batmen have to perform well, specially they have to come out from SSC mentality and should ready to face more challengers from world-class players. Specially the captain has to show his so called Character and improve his way record, than purely rely on M&M & Sanga The danger in winning is it hides the truth in some case

  • Radley on August 12, 2008, 11:38 GMT

    It was a fantastic series win by a long way. Well done Sri Lanka !It was pretty obvious they were hungry to win and outplayed the Indians brilliantly We are building a winning culture by playing attacking cricket and Mahela has shown he is prepared to lose in order to win .Another thing the team has shown is, their ability to come out fghting when the chips are down,as seen in the 3 rd test. marvelous !

  • Ruwan on August 12, 2008, 3:15 GMT

    It is all about the commitment as Jamie correctly says. As a Sri Lankan I am really proud of the string of good performances by our fellows throughout the last few weeks starting from the Asia Cup. Now it is the duty to carry on the good work without relaxing. A lot needs to be sacrificed, but I know they can do it . With having Sangakkara, Mahela, Murali, Ajantha makes a lot of difference in a side and having Sanath is the icing on the cake. Congrats Mahela and crew to deliver us what all Sri Lankans are expecting & hope u will continue this in ODIs against India & Champions trophy. Good luck guys!!

  • Harsha on August 11, 2008, 19:43 GMT

    Jamie Alter's articles relating to cricket in Sri Lanka always make my day. Her writing is very descriptive and colorful. Additionally, she talks so positively about Sri Lankan cricket. Her previous article about the P. Sara Stadium and rewinding the clock to the days when Bradman played there was emotionally touching, to say the least. Here, in rural Ohio in the United States, where people hardly know where Sri Lanka is or care to know, a fellow Sri Lankan longs to read her portrayals of what she has seen and experienced in my beautiful country.

  • Pratheepan on August 11, 2008, 19:05 GMT

    Truth be told Jamie, my spine tingled as I read the last few paragraphs of your article!

    Being a Sri Lankan, I feel an immense pride for being one of a country whose countrymen gave their wholehearted determination and showed the strength and resilience of a Sri Lankan to win this series. This is not merely a cricket series. It reflects what is still left in the citizens of a country ravaged by war and other plights.

    In a country we have nothing else to turn to for inspiration we now have a team full of character and determination showing us how we should lead our lives too - with a goal in sight and every sinew and drop of sweat working towards that goal.

    Hats off to you, fellow Sri Lankans!

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