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August 28, 2008
There's little a team can do once they've lost a series with a dead rubber to be played. Faced to confront a future that appears less than rosy, Mahela Jayawardene has emphasised the importance of not giving up even at this stage. "We do have some cricket in the near future so it's important that we finish on a high note," he said after losing the series on Wednesday. "We played some really good cricket throughout the Test series and one-dayers and it will be disappointing if you just give up in the next game."
Sri Lanka did play good cricket in the Tests but in the one-day series the performance has been abysmal. Their batting woes have been dissected, Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan have been under par, and most crucially, Ajantha Mendis has been negated. Sri Lanka have maintained their intensity in the field from the Tests, so it's not a case of channelling energy that way. Jayawardene's captaincy has also remained aggressive for the most part.
Pockets of the local media have criticised Sri Lanka's batting order, and Jayawardene's continued support of Chamara Silva and Tillakaratne Dilshan. Barring the first game, three collapses in Dambulla (44 for 6) and the Premadasa (59 for 6 and 106 for 4) have effectively sealed the host's fate. Much of the criticism has focused on using the struggling Kumar Sangakkara as opener and persisting with the likes of Silva and Dilshan.
Sri Lanka have not let on whether they will make any changes so there's only room for speculation. Sangakkara was nursing a right index finger injury since before the Tests, for which he is due to fly to Australia for surgery, but will be playing on Friday given the absence of another specialist wicketkeeper in the squad. Perhaps tweaking the side will work, perhaps it won't. Malinda Warnapura came in for a dismal Silva, and made 0 from 18 balls. Changes don't always work when you're losing.
Sri Lanka don't have a history of trying out or persisting with newcomers. Since 2000, they have used only 34 players between Nos. 1-6; they include veterans like Aravinda de Silva and Romesh Kaluwitharana, who were at the twilight of their careers.
It is evident that not too many newcomers have been tried out. Mubarak and Tharanga have been the most likely replacements after a lean patch. Thilan Kandamby played two games in 2004 and, while he's improved his game, he remains far from national selection. There's a massive need to find a replacement for Sanath Jayasuriya - it's a story itself that Sri Lanka look to a 39-year-old to win them matches - and so far they have yet to decide on the options.
There is no time frame on when Jayasuriya is likely to retire as an ODI player, but chances are at this stage, with the Champions Trophy called off, he might take a second look at his options. Jayasuriya will indeed play on Friday, and Sri Lankan fans deserve an encore from the Matara marauder.
Defeat brings with it some honesty. Jayawardene began the series by saying that the toss was not too significant, but by the time Sri Lanka trailed 2-1 he was forced to say otherwise. He admitted the toss was vital in previous matches, and that India's bowlers had taken advantage of the Dambulla track and batted well back in Colombo.
Now, with the series lost, Sri Lanka can only admit that India outperformed them. India's bowlers bowled tighter lines and lengths and the batsmen have succeeded in handling spin and attacking at the tight times. "I was disappointed the way we played," said Jayawardene. "We had our opportunities. Our one-day cricket hasn't been consistent."
With nothing at stake, Sri Lanka have the opportunity to make a few changes - personnel, batting order, approach - to try and finish off on a positive note.
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