Mahela Jayawardene, the Sri Lanka captain, is looking forward to a winning farewell as leader of the team. Having announced his decision to step down as captain following the two Tests in Pakistan, Jayawardene is hoping his team-mates will be motivated to help him end his tenure on a high note.
"The team accepted the decision I have made and hopefully it will be a motivation for them to make sure they win the series for me, my last as captain," Jayawardene said before the team's departure for the two-Test contest in Pakistan. Sri Lanka, who won the ODI series in Pakistan 2-1 in January, will play a three-day warm-up in Karachi before the first Test, which starts on February 21.
Jayawardene was upbeat despite the recent 4-1 loss in the home ODI series against India. "We have been performing very well as a team. Our chances are good but we have to wait and see what the conditions are going to be after the one-day series," he said. "I am not quite sure how they want to go about especially in the preparation of wickets. We'll go there and see what challenges lie ahead of us and try and make plans accordingly."
Jayawardene felt the selectors had picked a strong squad, and was hopeful the batsmen, chosen on the basis of their showing in the domestic arena, manage to do well at the international level. Among those certain to debut is opener Tharanga Paranativana, who has replaced the out-of-form Michael Vandort in the side. With 893 runs at 74.41 and 621 at 51.75 in the last two editions of Sri Lanka's domestic first-class competitions, Parantivana has been on the fringes of the national team for a while.
"Tharanga's been knocking on the door for quite some time especially with performances for the Sri Lanka A team and in domestic cricket," Jayawardene said. "He fully deserves the spot he's been given." Jaywardene said fast bowler Suranga Lakmal, the other newcomer, was a "great prospect".
Ajantha Mendis had his first ordinary showing against India in an otherwise splendid first year in international cricket, and Jayawardene felt the challenge would be greater for the spinner from now on, with batsmen managing to read him. "Ajantha's inception to cricket was brilliant. Everyone was surprised at the talent he had, but like all international cricketers do, it is a challenge for him to adjust and do different things," Jayawardene said. "This is the time for Ajantha to learn the ropes. We have to be patient with him and give him the opportunities he needs. Having Murali [Muralitharan)] alongside him will help him achieve the targets and goals."
Fast bowler Dilhara Fernando is on the squad despite his poor showing in the ODIs and Twenty20 international against India. Jayawardene said Fernando was erring in trying to do too much. "Dilli is a bundle of talent but fortunately or unfortunately we haven't been able to give him opportunities consistently. Whenever he gets the opportunity he tries to do too much wanting to make impact immediately. He is a strike bowler and a very aggressive one at that," Jayawardene said.
"I've always told him not to try too many things. That's where he probably goes wrong. He is going through some rough times but what he's got to realise is that he has been a match-winner for us in the past. If he can get his mental preparation right and if we can get him back to the form that he's shown in the past, we'll have a lethal combination of bowlers in our armoury to use."