Dav Whatmore reviews a heartening all round performance
Having lost the Test series against England we were delighted to comeback so strongly to win the three-match One-Day International series in such a convincing fashion. It was an immense all round performance from the team that showed a lot of character.
There were a number of reasons for the victory: The bowlers performed as a unit throughout and were extremely accurate; The ground fielding and catching was excellent, unlike in South Africa and New Zealand; Finally, the batsmen were more adept at working the ball into gaps than the English and made better use of the fielding restrictions in the first 15 overs.
To a man, the bowlers played their part. Chaminda Vaas continued his impressive Test match form and his accuracy was relentless. He was partnered well by Nuwan Zoysa, who took important wickets in all three opening spells. The English batsmen then struggled to score freely against the miserly spin of Kumar Dharmasena, Sanath Jayasuriya, and the ever-improving Russel Arnold.
Muttiah Muralitharan, however, caused the greatest problems. England may have reduced his effectiveness in the Test matches by padding him away, but in the One-Day Internationals survival was not enough. He prospered, taking seven wickets in the first two games, as the English batsmen found it difficult to score freely off him.
I was particularly delighted about the fielding performance, as our previously high standards had dropped slightly in the last six months. When at our best, however, the slick, aggressive Sri Lankan fielding puts the opposition batsmen under real pressure and can create the uncertainty, which leads to the crucial run outs that can often swing games.
The batsmen may have played poorly in the last two Test matches, but they out performed the English batsmen in the one-day series. They made better use of the fielding restrictions in the opening overs and, crucially, they displayed the ability to massage the ball into gaps thereafter, which allowed us to chug along at four runs an over without taking undue risks. England on the other hand struggled to frequently locate the gaps and were thus forced into taking fatal risks at important times.
Marvan Atapattu, the deserved winner of the Man of the Series award, who had under performed in the last two Test matches, held the batting together and scored consistently throughout the series. He can be a calming influence in this frenetic form of the game and during this tournament he steadied the innings in Dambulla, battled hard on the slow Premadasa wicket and, as an opener in place of Sanath, played a supporting role with Kaluwithrana in the final game.
Mahela Jayawardene's innings at Premadasa was a terrific match winning innings. When the game started we had a target of 240 in mind. But it soon became clear that the pitch was slower than expected and that the big shots were difficult to play. We thus adjusted our target accordingly. Mahela only hit seven boundaries, but manoeuvred the ball expertly into the gaps and paced his innings brilliantly. It was a mature innings.
Every-one was pleased for Romesh Kaluwitharana at the Sinhalese Sports Club. He had batted consistently in South Africa, but unfortunately was given few opportunities in New Zealand because of the dictates of team balance. This being the case he was anxious to do well and quite nervous in the first two-games. His entertaining hundred in the last match will have done wonders for his confidence.
When Kalu first opened the innings he was given plenty of freedom to play his shots, as we had a formidable middle order, packed full of talent and experience. We could risk the loss of early wickets and both Sanath and Kalu were allowed full rein to play their shots. At the present time, however, we are still in a process of transition. There is plenty of talent, but we lack experience. This means that Kalu has had to display greater responsibility and he has done this really well. Technically he is very sound, can play shots all round the wicket, and thus could become a very solid opener in One-Day cricket.
The team played well and deserves great credit, but the Sri Lankan crowd also deserves a special mention. They finally came to the party in the ODI series and managed to drown out the chants of the Barmy Army, which is no easy feat. There is no doubt that England's loyal supporters lifted their team during the Test series, especially when in the field, and we were boosted by the vocal local support in Dambulla, Premadasa and the Sinhalese Sports Club. Thank-you.