Mahela Jayawardene had no excuses after a shoddy performance with both bat and ball that cost Sri Lanka the chance to win a bilateral series in India for the first time. With the exception of Chamara Silva, no other batsman crossed 28, and the Indians overhauled the 260-run target with ridiculous ease as the shadows started to spread across the lush green outfield.
Having taken a 1-0 lead in the series after a tense win at Rajkot, Sri Lanka batted poorly both at Goa and Visakhapatnam to hand India victory. "A lot of things went wrong, not just one," said Jayawardene, when asked to assess a performance that he'll hope has little bearing on the World Cup encounter between the two sides on March 23. "Losing a lot of wickets early on was one of them. We knew the pitch was very good, and we probably needed 275 or 280 or even more. We knew there would be a little bit of movement early on, but we survived that. Then we lost wickets."
Having slumped to 56 for 4, Sri Lanka recovered to post 259 thanks largely to the efforts of one man. "The only bright spot from the whole match was Chamara Silva," said Jayawardene. "I thought he batted really well, with a couple of other guys chipping in."
Silva made a superb run-a-ball 107 in his first outing of the series, showing the sort of form that inspired Sri Lanka to a famous Test win at Wellington last December. When asked if there had been a temptation to play him earlier in the series, Jayawardene said: "Obviously, we wanted to play him in at least two games. But unfortunately, the first game was washed out, and our middle order couldn't get a bat. We tried to give those guys a couple of games, and also make sure that every top-order guy got a hit. We always knew the talent that he possesses, and the way he batted in New Zealand. It's brilliant to see the way he batted, and it gives us confidence for the World Cup."
Having put a competitive total on the board, Sri Lanka then let the game slip with some woeful new-ball bowling. Farveez Maharoof started the rot with a 10-ball first over, and though both Lasith Malinga and Dilhara Fernando were immensely quick, the radar was never switched on. "Once again, we didn't start well with the new ball," said Jayawardene. "Defending a total like 260 on a pitch like that, it's crucial that we get early wickets with the new ball, which we didn't do. We bowled both sides of the wicket, and too many wides and no-balls. We had no momentum from that point onwards. We played some poor cricket today, and India played some really good cricket.
"If you have to control the Indian batting line-up, you have to do well with the new ball. You have to hit the right areas, which we didn't. If you take the whole series, we weren't very consistent with the new ball. We gave away momentum and were always fighting to get back into the game."
|f you have to control the Indian batting line-up, you have to do well with the new ball. You have to hit the right areas, which we didn't. If you take the whole series, we weren't very consistent with the new ball|
He himself was as culpable as any on the batting front, with an awful heave that extended a fallow run without a 50 to 17 games. Considering that he had two centuries while averaging over 53 in the 16 games prior to that, Jayawardene's form is one of the team's prime concerns heading to the Caribbean. "Personally, I'm very disappointed with the way I've been batting the last couple of months," he said. "I want to contribute to the team, and I haven't been able to do that. I've been hitting the ball pretty well in practice, but not spending time out in the middle."
It can't be overlooked that Sri Lanka played this series without their two most experienced bowlers, but for Jayawardene, that was no excuse. "The last time we came here, Vaasy played a few games, and so did Murali," he said, referring to the series in 2005 when Sri Lanka were thumped 6-1. "We always knew it would be a tough task on Indian pitches. But these guys will learn by playing on different surfaces. They didn't bowl that well, but will learn from the experience. It's good that the full squad is getting prepared for the World Cup, and not just a few guys."
Though he was clearly disappointed with another poor top-order show, Jayawardene was pretty impressed by the manner in which India's bowlers acquitted themselves on surfaces that were largely batsmen-friendly. "Throughout the tournament, the Indian bowlers did well with the new ball," he said. "To be fair to our guys, I thought they [the Indians] got the better of the conditions. The wickets had some moisture and were more conducive [in the morning], but you can't take credit away from them.
"Our batting also contributed [to the defeat]. We played some really loose shots today and threw a couple of wickets away in tight situations. We had a poor game, you have to put your hand up and take responsibility for that."
By contrast, India's batsmen breezed past the target in just 41 overs, with Yuvraj Singh's fabulous unbeaten 95 and Robin Uthappa's breezy 35-ball 52 providing most of the impetus. "Robin had the advantage of batting in the Power Plays," said Jayawardene when asked to assess the two knocks. "Yuvi had to play the spinners with the field out. We were trying to attack and take wickets, and they had the opportunity to score freely. Both batted really well in different situations."
Unless Bangladesh play out of their skins in the Caribbean, these two sides will be tussling for top spot in their World Cup group. "It's a great combination with a lot of experience, and they'll be tough opposition," said Jayawardene, when asked about the Indians. "Obviously, playing in India, they cherish the atmosphere and you could see that today. But come the World Cup, it'll be a different atmosphere altogether."
With a formidable Australian side suffering an almighty injury-hit wobble in the lead-up to D-day, both India and Sri Lanka, strengthened by the addition of Vaas and Murali, will journey to the Caribbean with more than a smidgen of hope in the hearts. And on foreign fields halfway across the globe, both will need to replicate the form that they habitually show on the green, green grass of home.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo