Head coach Marvan Atapattu said the team that executes its skills properly under pressure will emerge the winner of the three-match Test series between Sri Lanka and Pakistan starting at Galle Wednesday week.
The two sides have met so often that they know each other’s strengths and weaknesses very well.
“You don’t have secrets in world cricket today it is just that execution is the big question mark,” Atapattu told The Nation. “Execution under pressure is something that is different to just knowing the strengths and weaknesses of a team. The team that executes its skills properly will emerge the winner in the series.”
Atapattu stated that the absence of Pakistan’s match-winning spinner Saeed Ajmal from the side would be a big psychological factor in the series.
“The major change that I see in this Pakistan side is that Saeed Ajmal is not there. He has been their main weapon and it’s somewhat unfortunate that things have fallen that way. Teams have to face such situations,” said Atapattu.
“It’s a psychological thing when you know that Ajmal at his peak made not only the Sri Lankans but a lot of batsmen think. He gave a lot of them sleepless nights. Now that he is not there it’s a psychological advantage to us but still you’ve got to respect the good ball and put away the bad ones. That’s the mentality I expect our players to be in.
“I believe they’ve got bowlers who could win games but at the same time they haven’t done it yet. Looking at the side, they’ve got four fast bowlers and two spinners. I read a few articles saying that they don’t have a match-winning bowler as they had Ajmal all these years.
“Some of these bowlers our guys have faced at different levels. The two spinners did well against the Australians when they won against them in UAE. We have to be positive and put the bad ball away and build pressure on the bowlers,” he said.
Atapattu said the upcoming series was important because it was the start of a new era for Sri Lanka cricket.
“We are getting into a new era without the two big guns Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara at some point in time in the series. It’s a new challenge for the players in different slots and hopefully they will grab them and hang in there for a long time.”
Jayawardene has retired from all formats of the game at the conclusion of the 2015 World Cup while Sangakkara is expected to do so during the series against India coming up in August.
Sangakkara is currently playing for English county Surrey and will join the Test squad before their departure to Galle on Sunday.
Sri Lanka threw away a golden chance of drawing their last Test series against New Zealand due to some poor performances on the field. The drop in fielding standards was also reflected in the team’s World Cup matches that followed. Atapattu however assured that there would be a marked improvement in that area during the Pakistan series.
“We have done quite a lot of fielding and we have emphasised a lot on our fitness levels. We have asked for minimum standards from players and the response has been good, hopefully it will show on the field,” said Atapattu.
“Jonty Rhodes coming to Sri Lanka doesn’t mean that we are going to hold onto every catch that comes our way. What we expected from Jonty was to give us new tips and techniques so that we can improve our players and to work on them, which we are doing through our local coaches who are capable.
“Our fielding can improve not only because of Jonty’s contribution but it could be because the conditions are different here and more suitable for our guys. We know our conditions better than anybody else.”
The majority of the players in the Lankan squad will be coming out of a three-month break from cricket which according to Atapattu was a long-felt need.
“We’ve been playing cricket since November 2014 and it ran upto the March 18, 2015 without a break other than the 10 days we got between the New Zealand tour and the World Cup,” pointed out Atapattu. “It’s been good but on the other hand some players have been playing there cricket elsewhere like in IPL, and in England. Very few had nothing and actually had a rest of three months.
“Playing for your own country brings out the best in you. There is no comparison playing for franchises, playing for your country is the ultimate. I am sure that when they don that Sri Lanka cap again they will be raring to go.”
Atapattu expressed satisfaction the way his team had prepared for the series.
“Compared to what we had on earlier tours our preparation was good. I am very pleased the way things have gone especially Jonty coming in and having a fielding program going, the fitness levels has been good in the latter stages with Dharshan (Weerasinghe) helping us a lot. We are having this 3-day game where we are giving our batsmen a good hit,” Atapattu said.
“Preparations have gone according to plan and a lot of support was given by the coaches at Khettarama Stadium and the facilities were good. All in all I don’t think we can complain about anything when it comes to our preparations this time around.”
Atapattu praised his fast bowlers whom he described as “coming of age”.
“Our fast bowlers are more disciplined than a decade ago if you exclude Chaminda Vaas who was in a different class. We are trying to bring in more discipline to our fast bowling unit and hopefully we will see results,” said Atapattu.
“We don’t have anybody who bowls at 150kph at the moment but you really don’t have to. You don’t need to be fast to trouble a batsman. We are more equipped in our unit to combat situations.”
Heaping praise on left-arm spinner Rangana Herath, Atapattu said, “Rangana has troubled not only the Pakistanis but a lot of other batsmen from various other teams.
Obviously he is our main strike bowler when it comes to spin but last time around Dilruwan (Perera) took nine wickets in the series which was really good because that takes a lot of pressure out of Rangana and gives him confidence. Dilruwan could be another one.”