Mahela Jayawardene has admitted his side faltered under pressure in their World Twenty20 final loss to the West Indies in Colombo, after having made an exceptional start to the match in the first 12 overs. The loss is Sri Lanka's fourth in major finals since 2007, and they have now been bridesmaids in two World Cups and two World Twenty20s in the last five major tournaments.
Sri Lanka had surged through the Super Eights and secured a tough victory over Pakistan on a dustbowl to progress to the final, but could not quell a West Indies resurgence in the title match. With West Indies mired at 48 for 2 after 12 overs the title seemed in Sri Lanka's grasp before Marlon Samuels bludgeoned three sixes off Lasith Malinga's second over on his way to a match-winning 78 from 56 balls. Jayawardene, who announced he was standing down as T20 captain, felt Sri Lanka should not have allowed West Indies, who were also 87 for 5 in the 16th over, to reap 89 from the last eight overs.
Sri Lanka lost Tillakaratne Dilshan in the second over in pursuit of 138, and were never able to catch up to the asking rate. Jayawardene did not see a trend in Sri Lanka's inability to win finals, but said his side had responded poorly to West Indies' middle-over onslaught, and marked out the three-over stretch between the 13th and 15th over, which cost 39, as the turning point of the match even though Ajantha Mendis took three wickets.
"I think we tried very hard, but this match changed in three or four overs in the middle," he said. "In the pressure situations we couldn't control the match. Marlon Samuels batted really well and he took it away from us a little bit. But when we were put under pressure, we didn't react well to that. When those small mistakes add up, that's where you lose a match like a final, and that's what happened to us."
Jayawardene has been at the helm for two of those four finals losses, while Kumar Sangakkara, Dilshan and Malinga have also played in each loss. In this tournament, Sri Lanka had lost only a seven-over match against South Africa in the group stage, and arrived in the final as the form team, and favourites with home advantage. Jayawardene said this defeat was different from finals failures in the past, because Sri Lanka had dominated the opening exchanges.
"We played well right until the final. Every defeat has been different. How we approached a couple of the finals, we did not start well and we kept chasing the game and it was tough for us to get back into it. I thought today we started well. Marlon took a gamble after the 12th over and it paid off for him. Those were individual performances that you have to give credit to. Under pressure he put his hand up and performed and that crucial moment he controlled."
Samuels was dropped on 20 by Nuwan Kulasekara as he attempted a difficult running chance on the long-off boundary in the tenth over. Samuels made 58 from the next 22 balls he faced and propelled West Indies beyond a run-a-ball - a run rate they had not looked like achieving in the early stages. After Samuels' demise in the 18th over, Darren Sammy propelled West Indies towards 140 with 26 from 15 balls.
"We dropped a half chance and then they played well in the next three overs," Jayawardene said. "I think that 20 or 30 runs was the difference. If we had kept them to 110 or 120 on this pitch we could have competed better in this match."
Jayawardene admitted that despite falling away in the field Sri Lanka were capable of chasing 138, but needed a strong start to do so. Ravi Rampaul's superb delivery to uproot Dilshan's off stump forced the hosts to be more conservative during their Powerplay, and the middle order were unable to reverse a flagging run rate amid a clatter of wickets.
"We wanted to attack. The first six overs, it was crucial for us to get a good start, particularly with the hardness of the ball. But when Dilly got out in the first ball of the second over, that kept us back because Kumar and I knew we had to consolidate and we couldn't lose another wicket in the first six overs.
"We were looking at 45-50 runs in the first six to put pressure on them, but that didn't materialise. They bowled really well and took pace off the ball. They didn't bowl their quicks and kept bowling their spinners. We never had momentum going in that chase. We had to make sure we had a good start going and we lost wickets regularly."
Malinga's second over disappeared for 21, but Jayawardene defended his decision to bring him back into the attack. Malinga's two remaining overs went for 29, and he finished with his worst ever Twenty20 figures, having taken no wickets for 54 from his four overs. Jayawardene still had overs from Akila Dananjaya and Nuwan Kulasekara at the finish in addition to Thisara Perera, who has barely bowled throughout the tournament.
"After the first 12 overs, Malinga had only bowled one over. I knew that they would have to play some shots, so I gave the ball to my number one bowler to take wickets. But they played well in that period and Lasith couldn't bowl two good overs then, but that's cricket. I thought we'd have a chance to take wickets if Lasith bowled because Marlon didn't play Lasith well in our match in Kandy, so I had thought about that when I gave him the ball.
"If I knew the script was going to be like that, I probably wouldn't have bowled him."
Jayawardene said the loss would be particularly painful for having come on their home turf, in front of a hugely expectant crowd of 35,000. Sri Lanka had defeated West Indies by nine wickets in the Super Eights - their most comprehensive win over top-eight opposition - in addition to having defeated them by the same margin in a practice match.
"As a team we gave everything we had. In a big tournament, we wanted to win to give something to the fans who have been cheering us. I'm very disappointed, we had a full house here as well. We just didn't execute a good gameplan and we weren't ruthless enough. So we're very disappointed that we couldn't give the fans what they wanted, and that hurts a lot."