'Dressing room a happy place' - Atapattu
Interim head coach Marvan Atapattu has stated that the 1-0 Test series win in England was a step towards getting Sri Lanka to win more Test matches and improve their results in all forms of the game.
"Winning Test matches is the thing for me," said Atapattu. "I believe if we can play good Test cricket, falling into playing well, which we are doing already, playing the other two formats becomes easier.
"Adjusting is easier, you have so much confidence in you, you have performed well in the longer game which shows your character, patience, confidence and everything that has to comes out for you to be a successful Test cricketer. If you can hold your skills, temperament and concentration for a long period of time I can't see why you can't in a short period of time do well in a 120-ball game or a 300-ball game. Winning Test matches is so important for us to grow as a team as individuals and going forward as a cricket-playing nation."
Atapattu praised the players and coaching staff for the series win in England, particularly the spirit within the dressing room.
"The fighting spirit, the belief and togetherness we had in the dressing room is what made this team different to previous sides," Atapattu told The Nation. "It was coming from the time we played the two T20Is against Bangladesh in Bangladesh where we had the result in the last ball of the match. The belief that was inculcated amongst us in the dressing room was huge and we believed that any one of us could finish a game taking it down to the wire. That belief was there and it kept on improving in the T20 World Cup when we had to win against New Zealand and Rangana (Herath) came and bowled so well to pull us out.
"The dressing room is one happy place where everyone was honest with their opinions and was allowed to talk freely. Everybody's information was valued."
Atapattu listed a number of other factors that had contributed to the win over England, highlighting the discipline shown by the bowlers. "We have improved in our skills no doubt going to England in the early part of summer and facing the conditions and the pitches. The players put in a lot of work to adapt and adjust accordingly. For them to have performed so well it's not only the batsmen but bowlers too. If you see the pitch maps and compare them with the first Test and the second there is a huge improvement in our bowling department especially the seamers, bowling that channel and that corridor.
"The groupings would show that we are almost there and thereabouts asking questions from the batsmen. That was a major difference between the two sides. They bowled short at us which was obvious tactics where we got ourselves prepared very well. Then we bowled that channel getting the ball to do a lot of the work. It's about the bowlers believing the belief would work for us and having the patience."
This kind of commitment, Atapattu said, had been there in the past as well, but at a different level.
"We can't forget the fact that a player like (Muttiah) Muralitharan would obviously run through the opposition. Whenever Murali plays no disregard but the bowlers who bowled alongside him obviously knew that they had to play a supporting role for Murali to take wickets. That is a bit different now.
"Yes Rangana does take a majority of the wickets now in Test cricket but when we tour abroad the others have to play a part too to take 20 wickets to win Test matches. Everybody has to chip in and play their part and sometimes even Rangana as he did in the first innings had to play the supporting role."
Atapattu said the inexperienced players had made a smooth transition into the Test team, and hailed the coaches at the club level and within the SLC for making that possible.
"We have got players who have played over 140 Tests in our side and those who have played less than 10 Tests. That goes to show that it's not only the coaching at the top has done well for guys who have been there for over 140 matches but guys just coming in from clubs and walking into the side with a handful of matches have gone through good quality coaching not [just] skillfully but mentally too in their preparations with the coaches we have at Khettarama and the club coaches.
"It's a good structure for them to come from in such a short period of time and to perform at the highest level especially abroad winning Test matches from players who have never been with us for years."
With a home series against South Africa just around the corner, Atapattu has another chance to cement his place as Sri Lanka's head coach. SLC had appointed him and his assistant Ruwan Kalpage as interim coaches for the England and South Africa series. Atapattu said the team would take confidence from their win over England into their new challenge, but guarded against complacency.
"It's confidence but on the other hand we should be mature enough to understand that it is a totally different ball game playing in Sri Lanka in our types of wickets. We have to start all over again from scratch and build ourselves into a winning position," said Atapattu.
"The England win is gone. It's only confidence and the belief that we get from winning the series. It's a fresh start for us when you are playing at home. As a player you are a bit more under pressure playing at home. Public expectations are high and that is something you've got to live with when you are in the public eye.
"Winning in England has brought on more pressure but it's a good feeling. When you are playing Test match cricket you've got time and over 450 overs to show what you are made of than something like T20 cricket where more luck is involved."