ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday April 13, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 46

Be positive even in defeat

As sportsmen you have to be positive, even in defeat. And this week we have been able to reflect back on the 1-1 series draw with West Indies and pick-out a few silver linings. However, sadly, those silver linings cannot erase the frustration of having shared a series we should have definitely won.

In my book this Sri Lanka team should have won 2-0 against West Indies. They have some quality players but as an overall group we should have been stronger. And having taken a 1-0 lead we should definitely have closed out the series. Unfortunately, in Trinidad, the basic truth is that we were outplayed.

Mid-way through that Test I believed we would win. Indeed, on the final day I also thought we would defend the 253-target and win. However, we lost our grip on the game during a crucial third morning, losing too many wickets against the new ball in our second innings.

Personally, I was extremely disappointed. First, I was involved in a run out - a criminal offence in such a tight game. Second, surprised by some extra bounce, I guided the simplest of catches in the gully. It was a poor stroke and with hindsight I was guilty of not taking greater time and care over constructing my innings.

Mahela's dismissal was also crucial. He was the victim of an unplayable delivery in the first innings, but he was still our form man in the second dig. We desperately needed him to spend some time in the middle. His second unfortunate dismissal, an inside edge onto the stumps this time, was a serious blow.

We started the second innings with a plan to bat four to five sessions. We realized the new ball would be a danger period. But we also knew that batting should become much easier afterwards. However, by the time it got easier half the side were back in the hutch. We lost too many wickets too quickly.

We still had a chance to clinch the game, though, thanks to Thilan Samaraweera's superb hundred, one of the best innings I have seen. He came into the second innings under huge personal pressure on what was a comeback tour. To bat like he did with us in such disarray was a huge show of character and hunger. To win, however, we needed to be faultless in the field. We were far from that. With the new ball, despite a couple of early wickets, we were guilty of giving Ramnaresh Sarwan too many scoring opportunities, helping him establish himself at the crease. We also missed a couple of half chances.

All credit to Sarwan, once started he batted beautifully. He stayed positive throughout, albeit helped by our ill-discipline, and his shot selection was excellent. He was troubled by Vaasy - the shining light of the series for us - who alone amongst the quick bowlers was able to maintain a tight line and length, and by Murali throughout, but he also played them skilfully and hung on in there.

It's not the first time that Sarwan has played well against us. During two home tours he has been a major thorn in our sides. I think this reflects the fact that his game is ideally suited to the kind of conditions we've played each other. His game was learned on the slow, turning surfaces of Guyana, similar conditions to what we Sri Lankans are used to.

The key to handling Sarwan is to tie him down, bowl one side of the wicket and make him search for runs. He is patient but he likes to see the ball disappear to the boundary. Vaasy exploited this expertly in the first Test. But in Trinidad the bowling unit could not create the same level of control.

Some people were surprised by Sarwan and Chanderpaul's survival against Murali for so long on a fourth day pitch. I don't think you can read too much into that. They both looked to be struggling against him to me, and they were helped by the docility of the pitch. If anything, Murali was forced to try perhaps a little too hard because the support at the forthcoming was not consistent.

As I have said, despite the loss, there were crumbs of comfort with some fine individual performances. Malinda Warnapura looked the part in Guyana and for a while in Trinidad. Michael Vandort batted sensibly and resolutely. Thilan produced a gem of an innings and generally showed how gutsy he is. Dilshan and Chamara batted beautifully together. Thilan Thushara can look back on a great first Test. As a team, I think we can be encouraged by those individual performances. I think we have a decent team structure now in Test cricket and we are gelling more and more. Both the openers and the middle order seem to be developing and there are bowlers emerging to support the injured trio we had to leave at home.

Straight after the Test, after one day's rest to reflect back on the game, we quickly had to switch gear and focus for the ODI series. This is a completely different challenge with a new team and game plan. After two losing ODI tours against England and in the CB Series in Australia, this is a chance to start rebuilding. We have some new faces and I hope some of them can make an impression this week.

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