May 7, 2003

Fleming surprised by negative attitude

Stephen Fleming claimed to be surprised by Sri Lanka's negative approach during the final Test in Kandy, believing that they did "not want to win." Sri Lanka were set a stiff 191 target in 38 overs after bowling out New Zealand for 183, but settled for a draw after the early loss of Sanath Jayasuriya.

"It was a pretty poor end to the Test match to be honest," said Fleming. "We didn't have the ability to push on this morning and they didn't seem to want to win the Test.

"Last night we showed the urgency required to get a base after a pretty slow day and we tried to do that again today," he added. "But the key is that when you push harder you expose yourself and in the end we weren't skilful enough against a world-class bowler."

Fleming had wanted to set a target of 260 in 65 overs when the day began but he said would have been happy to set 230 in 60 overs if necessary. "They gave up after losing the first wicket and that was very surprising ... we were looking forward to a good scrap. They had nothing to lose and I can't understand why they were not willing to push on further. We were certainly not going to bowl them out in 38 overs."

Hashan Tillakaratne, in his first series as captain, denied that his side had been negative, arguing that it would have been dangerous to chase the total after the loss of Jayasuriya. "We wanted to go after the total but our playmaker was Sanath [Jayasuriya]," he said. "We were minus one of our best batsman [Marvan Atapattu] and they had two good spinners on a turning track - it was not easy out there.

"We did make mistakes in the field, though," he admitted. "We should have dismissed New Zealand for about 150 and with hindsight I should have brought back Chaminda Vaas earlier."

Muttiah Muralitharan, who took his 450th Test wicket and a five-wicket haul for a world-record 37th time, was delighted to have starred in front of his home supporters. Murali claimed 5 for 49 in the second innings and 9 for 139 in the match.

"To reach 450 wickets here, in Kandy where I grew up, is very special for me," said Muralitharan afterwards. "I am happy but there is a long way to go as I want to play until 2007 and get to 600."

Muralitharan, who was forced to toil hard for his 14 wickets in the series, admitted that New Zealand's defensive strategy against him had been successful. "In a negative way they [the New Zealand batsmen] played me well ... they never tried to attack though. It's not easy to get wickets now in Test cricket ... people have worked me out like they do any world-class bowler."

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