Sri Lanka's coach previews the second Test against England
Seven months ago the Sri Lankan team travelled to Kandy on a high. We had just overcome a strong South African team by an innings and 15 runs in Galle and were confident of wrapping up the series in the hill country. Alas, the mood in the bus back to Colombo was not one of joyousness, but of dark contemplation, as we let South Africa level a series that we should have won.
The players remember that match well, the bitter taste of defeat still lingers. We discussed it afterwards and we will discuss it again to ensure that the same mistakes are not made. And, as we journeyed up to the hills this morning we were entirely focused on the task ahead, not the result itself, but the processes necessary to achieve success.
Our mental approach let us down against South Africa. On numerous occasions we worked our way into a position of supremacy, only to let it slip. On the first day we let South Africa add 43 crucial runs for their final wicket, on the third we collapsed from 286 for four to 308 all out. On the final day, we allowed Nico Boje to add 45 runs for the ninth wicket, which meant we were required to chase 176 for victory on a difficult pitch. Finally, having recovered from the loss of early wickets, we capitulated at the end, losing four wickets for eight runs.
In all these instances we should have rammed home the advantage mercilessly and not relaxed until the final ball had been bowled. Although a chastening experience, I feel, however, that we learnt a great deal during that match and am confident that the same mistakes will not be repeated.
I anticipate that the Asgirya pitch will be better than the one in Galle, which deteriorated quickly after the first two days. There will be a little more grass and the ball should bounce more. The weather conditions could also play a role, as there is often enough cloud cover to keep the fast bowlers interested.
Winning the toss is always preferable, but I don't think it will be as important as in Galle and we have no qualms about fielding first. Against Australia in 1998 we lost the toss, were asked to field and took seven wickets before lunch. Last year we won the toss, elected to bowl first, and dismissed South Africa for 253.
Moreover, our number one spinner, Muttiah Muralitharan, is more effective when the batsmen are trying to score runs. In the First Test Match the English batsmen did not look to score runs so, if they happen to bat first, it will be interesting to see to what degree they are prepared to attack.
England now have to try and take the bull by the horns if they want to avoid defeat in this series. Thus, I would be surprised if they don't try to be more positive than they were in Galle. Had they been so there, they may well have saved the game. Nevertheless, it is not easy scoring runs freely off our bowlers in Sri Lankan conditions.
The opening partnership between Marcus Trescothick and Michael Atherton will once again be crucial for England. They have made life very difficult for us twice now, batting with great patience and concentration in extreme heat. They are a problem for us and we have had to look at them closely over the past week in an effort to try and secure an earlier breakthrough.
Asgiriya Stadium Kandy
The English bowlers made life difficult for our batsmen in the first Test. Most of the top order are free flowing stroke-players who like to hit the ball, but we were restricted to 2.5 runs per over throughout our first innings. That shows just how tightly they bowled, even if there was also some negative stuff from Ashley Giles on the second day. We expect them to show the same steadiness in Kandy and are preparing to have to work hard again for our runs.
All in all we anticipate another tough encounter. England have displayed resilience in their batting and perseverance in their bowling. They are a mentally stronger team than they were 12 months ago and we cannot afford to take our foot off the pedal like we did against South Africa. I don't think we will and believe that we can go two up in the series.