Support from selectors invaluable - Sangakkara
The last three weeks have been good for Sri Lanka. In seven games against India, they have nailed three close chases. For a team that has been choking of late - today's effort too was far from perfect - it's a precious statistic. Never mind the fact that that this game should never have got so close, but considering they were losing these games from similar situations in the not so distant past, it's a step forward.
"We did play a few tentative shots in the end and yes we should have probably finished it off better but it still feels good to have pulled it off," Kumar Sangakkara said. "It tastes sweet but one tournament win doesn't make a year. You have to be consistent. We will celebrate today of course; it was nice to see youngsters come in and do the job. And Mahela Jayawardene has been exceptional since his return from injury. He is a big-match player and he again came good today. For us it was extra special to make sure that we started the New Year with a new culture in the team."
This victory was set up by the bowlers who operated to a plan against the top order. Yesterday, in the pre-game practice, Chanaka Welegedara was seen bowling round the stumps to the right-hand batsmen and also practicing a lot on the bouncers and the yorkers. Sangakkara said then that it was just a routine practice session but it was going to be interesting to see what lines and lengths they adopted on the match day.
There were no bouncers or yorkers but there was just enough movement on offer and they bowled it a touch outside off stump and waited for the batsmen to commit the mistake. Welegedara got the wicket of Virat Kohli and troubled MS Dhoni with his round-the-wicket attack. "We changed the angles by going round the stumps, we tried to do away with the third man and tried to make shot-making risky," Sangakkara said. "It worked for us, some days they don't work but the thing is to have a plan and try to execute it."
The talk slowly shifted towards the future of Sri Lanka. At some point, Sangakkara said: "There is a lot of pressure back home on selectors and to come out here and get support from selectors and to make the right decisions on the tour helped us a unit."
The pressure could have referred to anything, but, a pointer came a few minutes later when the perennial question of Sanath Jayasuriya came up. Sangakkara started off saying, "Age doesn't matter. In subcontinent we like these words - young, potential and talent, but in the end of the day we are looking for something tangible." He then addressed the question, "If Jayasuriya is performing, the door is open to anyone who is performing. We are looking for cricketers who can perform."
He then added something seemingly mundane but interesting if you read between the lines. "Cricket is a funny game. We have had legends and living legends but the game doesn't stop for anyone. Cricket is a real leveler." It's open to debate whether he was suggesting the door is shut or not for Jayasuriya. Perhaps one is reading too much into his words.
Trevor Bayliss, the coach, had earlier said that Jayasuriya can still come in as a spin-bowling allrounder, while Thilina Kandamby too has left the door ajar for Jayasuriya by continuing to under-perform. He has played a couple of stirring knocks but he has succumbed under pressure. Sangakkara, though, rallied behind Kandamby.
"I don't think he has failed. If you take No.6 or 7,with the exception of Michael Bevan , they usually don't get that great opportunities to score big runs. Kandamby has scored 20's and 30's nearly everytime he has gone out. I don't think there have been many single-digit scores. The door is definitely not shut on him. We will continue to back him. Of course he has to get a lot fitter and has to push hard but we have no doubt what he can do for the side."
Looking back at his tenure as captain, Sangakkara said he's had his share of good and bad days. "I had a great start with the team. The World Twenty20, series at home against Pakistan and New Zealand, we had our chances in the Champions Trophy. We didn't have a great Test series in India but we came back in the ODI series. We should have probably closed the series had we won the big-scoring first game (in Rajkot) where we nearly chased 400.
"In the last few weeks we have shown that we can chase and defend totals. We have given opportunities to several new players and that has paid off. We need to raise fitness levels; get physically and mentally fitter."
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo