Many challenges ahead
Playing a test at home after one year -- against a very strong opposition
By Chaminda Vaas

After weeks of frenzied Twenty-20 cricket in India and then the euphoria of victory in the hectic Asia Cup in Pakistan, we are back at home to take on the mighty Indians for a three test and five one day international series, probably our greatest test match challenge in recent times having only played Bangladesh in tests this year.

This would also be the first time in nearly a year that we would be playing a test at home, so the challenges are many: strong opponents, adjusting to the pressure of playing at home where expectations are higher and changing gears from limited over cricket to the five day game.
I must confess the players felt they were under a cloud before they left for Pakistan for the Asia Cup. There was speculation that we were not playing as a team and as a result, not performing well. Our emphatic victory in the Asia Cup, where every team member contributed significantly has lifted the morale of the team tremendously and we are rearing to go.

Of course we would still have to adjust ourselves physically as well as psychologically for the longer game. In batting this would mean being more patient and building an innings and as bowlers we are able to employ more variations and experiment with new tactics. But it also means maintaining very high fitness levels-in a Twenty-20 game I would bowl only four overs; in a test, I could be called upon to bowl forty!

We have had four days off since returning from Pakistan and have started training since then. Especially in batting, we have split ourselves into four groups having one hour sessions. This has worked very well with players receiving a lot of individual attention. Now, even those who were struggling with their form are middling the ball well at the nets.

But it is not that we don’t have our share of problems. Our pace attack is not finalised yet because so many players -- Dilhara Fernando, Lasith Malinga and Farveez Maharoof -- are on the injured list.
I would consider fast bowling as the most difficult role in test cricket because it puts your body under constant stress and strain with each delivery. I have, for the most part of my career, succeeded in avoiding injuries by training hard, sacrificing many things to follow a strict regimen-and having a bit of luck as well!

I do believe that the amount of cricket we play now is far too much. For a fast bowler, this means that it does not allow the body to recover sufficiently from each game before we play the next encounter. A player such as Malinga for instance bowls constantly at nearly a 150 kilometers an hour; so, when he has an injury, the chances are that its impact would be greater.

Malinga and Maharoof are both very young and have a lot of cricket before them. They are also potential match winners but they must be managed carefully and protected if they are to avoid injuries because of playing too much cricket.

Dilhara is of course now playing the tour match against the Indians where he has already dismissed Gautam Gambhir. Yet, he would have to prove that in addition to having recovered sufficiently from his injury he is also match fit.

We must also remind ourselves that while we will be subjected to the added pressure of performing at home, we cannot expect any major advantage as the home team because conditions in India are quite similar to ours. In addition, traditionally they too play spin extremely well.

The Sinhalese Sports Club grounds where the first test will be played will probably aid the batsmen but it is also known to help the pacemen in the first hour or so. So, the team which exploits the conditions to the maximum would be at a definite advantage.

Therefore, this promises to be an exciting series for all of us. I have always cherished the chance to play test cricket for my country and I am looking forward to the challenge. I know that some of the senior players have opted to play one form of the game or the other or have breaks in between series. Even India’s one-day skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni opted out of this tour saying he needed a rest. At this moment in time though I feel I am fit enough and bowling well enough to carry on in both versions of the game. Right now however, our focus is on Wednesday and the first test at the SSC-nothing else!

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