Sri Lanka savouring the good times
Kumar Sangakkara described his team's run of success against Pakistan as "the good times" but was guarded enough to warn Sri Lanka to also be prepared for the bad ones after their six-wicket win in Dambulla gave them an unassailable 3-0 lead.
"When you've got a team that's trying really hard it becomes easier," Sangakkara said at the end of the game. "These are the good times, but you've got to plan for the bad times as well which are surely going to come. We have to make sure we have the reserves, the mental and the physical strength to go through them."
Sri Lanka are unbeaten on this tour but despite their 2-0 win in Tests and now the victory in the ODIs, they didn't completely outplay Pakistan. The visitors squandered dominant positions by way of collapses to lose the Tests, and even today, were unable to defend a formidable score of 288.
Sangakkara admitted to some early lapses by Sri Lanka but lauded his team for the manner in which it fought back to emerge victorious. "There were a couple of situations where we showed a lack of maturity by not really closing the door on Pakistan in the Test series in all three games, but then we showed a lot of heart and a lot of hunger to come back in those tough situations and turn matches around," he said. "We have a long way to go again and we have lots of areas to improve upon. Every single player is not really satisfied that he is really there yet, but I think as a team it's a really good feeling that everyone is responding well. We are looking to play better cricket and improve."
The track in Dambulla has acquired a reputation for being bowler-friendly but it behaved quite differently today as Pakistan amassed a challenging total. Sangakkara acknowledged there was room for improvement. "The bowlers tried very hard on a wicket that was really good for batting," Sangakkara said. "The only area that we really got to improve on is our fielding. We got another 20 percent to give out there. We could have probably kept Pakistan down to 240."
Sri Lanka's batsmen made short work of the target, though, with openers Mahela Jayawardene and Upul Tharanga adding 202 to shut Pakistan out. "What can you say about the batting of Mahela and Upul," Sangakkara said. "It was just amazing; a double hundred opening stand when you are chasing 280, there is nothing more you can ask for."
Mahela Jayawardene opened the batting after Sanath Jayasuriya opted out of the game due to a stomach bug. It was only the second time that Jayawardene opened in an ODI, and he managed his 11th ODI century which was also his first since getting a hundred against New Zealand in Kingston in the 2007 World Cup semi-final. Sangakkara was all praise for his effort. "Mahela always bats well when he is free to play his strokes," he said. "Unfortunately and unfairly for him, we put him under a lot of pressure over the years by losing too many wickets upfront, but today he had a free hand to go out there and enjoy himself and express himself fully. He was really raring to go out there and open and hit the ball."
Though Jayawardene was not accustomed to opening the batting, making the transition, he said, was not too difficult. In fact, he volunteered to open when Jayasuriya was ruled out. "Opening the batting wasn't a big thing," Jayawardene said. "I've played enough cricket to realize how to handle the situation.
"When I got to know that Sanath was sick I went up to the coach and the captain and asked them if I could open as we would have a right and left-hand combination, and because we didn't have any openers who were coming into the side with the experience to go up and bat. I knew the conditions were going to be difficult and I thought as a senior player I should take responsibility on this occasion. Sanath was an experienced player we've lost upfront, and to take that burden from the team I asked them to give me an opportunity to go out and bat as well as to get my confidence back."
Jayawardene played an attacking knock, suffering cramps along the way, making 123 off just 108 balls to put his team on course for a comfortable win. His innings was laced with 14 fours and a six before being terminated by Abdul Razzaq. "While opening the batting you can take a few chances, calculated risks and try and build the innings. That's what I tried to do," he said. "I know I won't get that opportunity batting at number four because you have to bat according to the situation and then go after the run rate if you're especially chasing runs. Today it was much easier for me to get a good start and continue to bat.
"Wish I could get more hundreds like this. Today I knew that after the first 15 overs, I just had to bat through. Unfortunately with the cramps I couldn't finish the game off for the team, which was disappointing."
Twenty20 cricket, Jayawardene believed, did have an impact on his strokeplay when it came to ODIs. "T20 has definitely changed the approach," he said. "We've got new freedom and the way we've gone about in the IPL and Twenty20 international matches, you have that confidence of playing those big shots at the right time.
It's all about getting control out there and creating those opportunities, that's what we did."