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

Loose stroke play let us down

While writing this, we are in the midst of preparing for the first one day international against the West Indies after a week that didn’t go exactly according to plan.

Our loss to the Windies in the second test was extremely disappointing - we were looking towards winning the game and making a clean sweep of the series and even a draw would have earned us a series win but we lost a game that was within our grasp at the last stages of the contest.

West Indies batsman Shivnarine Chanderpaul, left, celebrates as umpire Clyde Duncan, center, signals a six.(AP)

We hoped to post a good score in our second essay because we conceded a slender lead of sixteen runs in the first innings but those plans came undone due to a batting collapse. The ball was moving around a bit and batting was not very easy but it should also be acknowledged that some dismissals were due to loose stroke play rather than brilliant bowling or difficult ground conditions. The scoreboard read 99 for 6 when I walked into the middle to join Thilan Samaraweera.

I have put in a lot of hard work at the nets with my batting in recent times and I believe it has paid off now as I was able to forge a hundred plus partnership with Samare. He was seeing the ball really well and offered me support and advice throughout our partnership of 138 runs for the seventh wicket that took us to a total of 268-less than what we had initially expected but offering a decent target to the West Indians nevertheless.

When we discussed the match situation during the innings break we thought a target of just over 250 was very competitive. Of course, it left the West Indians in with a chance unlike in the first test where we set them a target well in excess of 400. But with four days to play and Murali on our side, we thought our chances were more than even, provided we got quick wickets.
We did get the early breakthroughs and we had them at 73 for 3 with Gayle, Chattergoon and Samuels back in the pavilion, but then the game turned against us. The usually accurate Dilshan was unfortunate to miss the crucial run out of Sarwan and in retrospect, it may well have cost us the match.

It was then that Sarwan and Chanderpaul put their heads down and played to their strengths and ensured the Windies got home without much anxiety thereafter, despite Murali’s best efforts.

The wicket did turn appreciably but the pressure exerted by Murali couldn’t be sustained at the other end. As a result the Windies played Murali with the intention of surviving for six deliveries and used the other end to score and slowly approach the target. It is a price we had to pay as our bowling attack was relatively low on experience apart from Murali and myself.Despite the obvious disappointment in the second test, where we let a historic opportunity slip by, we can take home a few pluses from the two tests-and learn a few lessons.

In our batting we were brilliant in patches, but at crucial times in the second test we did not display the consistency required to succeed at this level of the game. Brilliance in patches may grab headlines but is not enough to win test matches, especially when we play overseas. Malinda Warnapura was a player to emerge from the games with obvious potential for the future as an opener.

The tour also highlighted the need for bowlers to be accurate throughout an innings, if they hoped to be penetrative and successful. Such experiences no doubt will stand us in good stead in future.

We now focus on the one day games before us - three games played within six days. Seven of the boys have returned, some of them like Murali for a well earned rest and their replacements for the short one day series joined us on the fourth day of the second test. Three players in the one day squad-Ajantha Mendis, Thilan Thushara and Mahela Udawatte have not played one day internationals before and that is one reason why these three one day internationals assume greater significance.

We see this one day series as being crucial for our team. With several senior players retiring and some of our regular bowlers on the injured list, we are in the process of blooding youngsters, giving them opportunities which they should grab with both hands.

In that sense, this one day series throws open the doors for quite a few new names and it is left to be seen which of them become permanent fixtures in the playing XI. The one day squad has had a few days of intense training in Trinidad where we remain because the first two one-dayers will be played here. We are happy with the nets that we have had and there haven’t been any concerns of injury, so the full squad is available for selection of matches.Although the Sinhala and Tamil New Year is being celebrated back home the boys are yet to make plans for any celebrations here. Our focus has been on the cricket and it has to remain on the game for the next week as well, traditional festivities notwithstanding.

It is one of the many sacrifices an international cricketer has to make, given the extremely busy schedules that we keep, if we could win the one day series, that would be more than enough reason to celebrate for the New Year.

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