Sri Lanka news January 6, 2012

Sri Lanka need mental strength - Duleep Mendis

Duleep Mendis, the chairman of selectors for Sri Lanka, has said the team is going through a period of transition and needs to be given time to start performing consistently. Sri Lanka's victory over South Africa in Durban in December 2011 was their first in Tests for 18 months, and the team had faced plenty of criticism during their barren run. However, Mendis said it was only a matter of time before the team came together.

"You need to develop the spinners," he told ESPNcricinfo. "You need to develop the fast bowlers. Now Rangana Herath is becoming a good bowler. Even for the seamers, you need to give them a little time to play matches and to get wickets. They should know how to get 20 wickets.

"You need to give them time. You need to give them matches. Then only will you gradually become successful."

When Kumar Sangakkara resigned as captain after the 2011 World Cup, he said it was to give Sri Lanka a chance to start planning for the 2015 tournament, and Mendis confirmed that the selectors were looking at player development in that context. Their strategy, he said, was to blood young players in the limited-over formats first, and then in Tests.

"What we thought was we will put more emphasis on the youngsters in the T20 games and some of the one-day games. Then even in the Test team, we thought, whenever possible, we will introduce some of the youngsters into the side and see how they perform."

Since Sri Lanka's loss to India in the World Cup final on April 2, 2011, eight Sri Lanka players made their debuts in Test cricket, four in one-day cricket and five in T20 internationals.

According to Mendis, the key trait the players needed to develop was the mental strength to cope with the demands of top-level cricket. "You need a lot of mental coaching. You come to Test level and what you need is mental strength. You have learned the technical aspects of the game already, so you need the mental strength to go through difficult times, and to come out of the difficult times."

One of the main criticisms Sri Lanka faced over the last year and a half has been their bowling attack's lack of incisiveness, but Mendis said the pace department was shaping up well. "I would say the pace attack is not a problem. We are going with Dilhara [Fernando], who is clocking 140kph, Chanaka Welegedara, who is bowling well, Dhammika Prasad and Thisara Perera."

At the same time, he said there was room for improvement and that there was a problem in the spin department but "with a lot of experience gained on these tours, they will come into a position where they can become match-winners."

To ease the transition, and to cope with any injury problems, Mendis said the selectors had earmarked a group of 10 bowlers and a similar number of batsmen as players with the potential to play for the national side. "Some of them are performing well in the A team," he said. "Some of them are performing well with some of the other teams and the best are in the national team."

Sri Lanka's defeat of South Africa in Durban came after they received a three-day hammering in Centurion. According to Mendis, that defeat would have rankled the side and motivated them to prove themselves in the next game. "When you get beaten in one game, you want to do well in the next game; just to make a comeback and show that you can do much better than the other side. It was a good team effort to beat South Africa in South Africa for the first time.

"To beat any country away is something to talk about and especially to beat South Africa for the first time in South Africa, it was a great victory."

What Mendis wanted to see is the team producing those kinds of results on a regular basis. "You need a lot of encouragement for the players and you need to put them on the right path, but more than anything else, I always emphasise, you need a lot of mental strength."

Tariq Engineer is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo