'Credit should go to the bowlers' - Jayawardene
Mahela Jayawardene, the Sri Lanka captain, heaped praise on his champion spinner Muttiah Muralitharan who came up with an exceptional bowling performance on a flat track to take six wickets for 131 runs (match bag of 10 for 172) to send South Africa crashing to defeat by an innings and 153 runs in the first Test in Colombo.
"Credit should go to the bowlers", said Jayawardene. "The conditions weren't easy. We knew in the last two days the South Africans were going to be a very tough nut to crack and they proved to be. They fought really hard and it wasn't easy to bat on that wicket - it was slower but they scored a lot of runs on that.
"Murali bowled exceptionally well for another 60 odd overs again. He is not getting tired. It was difficult for me to get the ball off him. It was a bit of a freak when Murali got a wicket with the new ball. When I took it, I didn't have that in my mind, but Murali came up to me and said that it might go low and skid through, to give him one or two overs and see how things go. He got a wicket in the first over. That's the genius in him because he imagines things that other people cannot".
He also praised the rest of his bowlers and said it was a brilliant allround effort with the quicks Dilhara Fernando, Lasith Malinga and Farveez Maharoof sticking to their task well, especially in the first morning. He said getting South Africa out for a low score in the first innings was the key factor to this win.
Jayawardene, who was named the Man of the Match for his monumental knock of 374, described the win as "icing on the cake". "No matter the records we broke, if we didn't get the result we wanted in the end, it would not have mattered that much. We put in the hard work in the first two to three days to get the advantage and we came out with a win."
He said South African captain Ashwell Prince's wicket in the second over of the final morning was the turning point. "We planned that we needed an early wicket. To get that wicket in the second over of the day gave us a lot of breathing space and to get another batsman [Herschelle Gibbs] before lunch were two big wickets that definitely gave us the breakthrough."
Prince admitted that poor batting by the South Africans in the first innings cost them the match. "There was a bit of moisture in the pitch the first morning but I can't blame it for any of our wickets in the first innings", Prince said. "They were poor, soft dismissals. The guys were aware of that and came up with an improved batting performance in the second innings. It was a typical South African-style fightback. We showed a lot of character in the second innings and we got a few positives to take out of this match."
Prince said that during the Jayawardene-Sangakkara world record partnership of 624, the longer the pair batted, the more South Africa realized that there wasn't much of a chance for them to win. "The pitch was very good to bat on and the longer they batted the more relief it gave us to bat for a long time as well."
Making his debut as South Africa's first coloured Test captain, Prince said that it was not the ideal situation but added: "We improved as the game went on. We can't win the series anymore, but we can get that one win and hopefully draw it."
Mickey Arthur, the South African coach, described Muralitharan as undoubtedly the world's best bowler. "Our guys have all played a lot of Muttiah now. We've developed game plans and strategies against him. He doesn't come as a surprise element anymore. We started to play him better and better but in these conditions he is quite phenomenal."
Arthur said the return of fast bowler Shaun Pollock for the second Test starting on Friday in Colombo would be a great motivating factor although as true professional cricketers, the South Africans are very easy to motivate. "We've got to get 20 wickets going into the next Test match", he continued. "We need all the bowling options available. We got to sit down and think as to what's going to give us the best chance of winning the next Test. We lose [Graeme] Smith, [Jacques] Kallis and Pollock for one Test match means you lose 250 Test caps. That's a huge amount of experience."
Arthur added that it has been tough for him as coach coming into his first Test series in Australia and now in Sri Lanka, but is satisfied with the way the team has performed, despite the absence of key players.