Sri Lanka came, Sri Lanka competed, Sri Lanka injected life into the one-sided Australian summer, Sri Lanka won some hearts, but fell at the last hurdle after having restricted Australia to a below-par 231. The Man of the Series came from their side, as did the highest run-getter and highest wicket-taker. Mahela Jayawardene, the captain, admitted even he did not believe the side could fashion such a performance after the drastic changes to the setup just before the Commonwealth Bank series; but that they could not win the tournament left Jayawardene in a state of mixed emotions.
"I am a hard taskmaster," Jayawardene said. "I am quite happy and proud of the way the boys played. We were very consistent. Under pressure we have handled a lot of situations really well. Even with injuries, the guys who came in put their hands up and performed.
"But we were here to get a job done, which was to win a tournament. Credit goes to the Australians because they played better cricket than us today and handled situations better. We didn't win and because of that some of the sheen will go off the hard work we put in before."
What will rankle Sri Lanka more is that they had done well to restrict Australia, and the game was going exactly to script for them, with a target of 40 fewer than what they had smashed two nights ago at the same venue. "I thought we did really well to keep them to 230," Jayawardene said. "They could have easily got 260. We managed to pull them back. If you had offered us a target of 230 in the morning, we would have accepted it.
"The only thing we didn't do well was have partnerships up front, which we have been consistently putting up in the entire tournament. Losing four wickets up front didn't help the cause. When you are chasing totals, it is important to keep wickets in hand. That's probably where we went wrong. Still, the boys fought well. Upul [Tharanga] batted really well. Thiri [Lahiru Thirimanne], [Farveez] Maharoof, and everyone got us close. There were lots of mistakes but we still came close."
This somehow has been the case for Sri Lanka in the last two World Cup finals, a World Twenty20 final, and now in Australia. Jayawardene doesn't see a trend there. He takes heart from the fact that they are consistently making it that far. "If you take that view it can be very disappointing, in saying that we haven't won finals. But the brighter picture is that we have been very consistent for the last 10 years or so in all big tournaments. We won the Asia Cup [in Pakistan in 2008]. Even in the last World Twenty20 we were in the semi-finals in the Caribbean. So that's what you need from a team. Being there and thereabouts all the time, and being competitive. As long as we continue to do that we are very happy."
Jayawardene said there was nothing in particular that they were missing and that if you looked at the big picture what Sri Lanka had achieved in the CB series had been impressive given the circumstances.
"It's not that we don't know how to win big tournaments. As a team, as a captain, I am not disappointed because when we came to Australia we were not given any chance of getting anywhere, but we showed a lot of character. In tough situations, we played some really good cricket. And it's not easy when you have a new captain, a new coach and a new way of thinking.
"Everyone responded really well. From now onwards we will try and keep building on that, and probably get all these injuries sorted out. We will work on our bench strength so we have replacements for everybody. We have to look into all those problems because we have got a lot of cricket ahead of us.
"The only disappointment here has been the finals. We needed to win these big games. It would have been brilliant and all the hard work would have been worth it if we had done that."
One of the more difficult parts of adapting to the change in the Sri Lankan team would have been getting Tillakaratne Dilshan, the outgoing captain, to get into a frame of mind where he could play his best cricket. He is too good a cricketer to not make use of. Dilshan responded brilliantly with two centuries, superb fielding and tidy bowling whenever needed.
"Dilly and I have a very good relationship," Jayawardene said. "We had a good chat. He was quite happy and we had to identify a role for him in the side. He is still part of the senior group, still part of the leadership. His role is to perform freely and at the same time guide the younger guys in the side, give them the confidence.
"I thought he had an outstanding tournament and will probably continue to do that. We can build a team around these leaders in the team. Kumar [Sangakkara], myself and Dilshan, we have got the responsibility to develop a team for the future."
Later this year Jayawardene, Sangakkara and Dilshan will get to play their first Test at the MCG. They have left at least some promise for those who have always been skeptical of giving Sri Lanka that opportunity. "That's way too far away for Sri Lankan cricket [to talk about now], I can tell you that," Jayawardene joked. "Anything can happen during that period of time. I've got my fingers crossed."
Edited by Dustin Silgardo