x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The gamble that paid off

The Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene admitted he only tossed the ball to Ajantha Mendis as a last resort in the Asia Cup final.

The Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene with the Asia Cup.
The Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene with the Asia Cup.

KARACHI // The Sri Lanka captain Mahela Jayawardene admitted he only tossed the ball to Ajantha Mendis as a last resort in the Asia Cup final. India looked to be racing towards the target of 273 on the back of another Virender Sehwag masterpiece. Sehwag blasted 60 in just 37 balls, as India raced to 76-1 in a mere nine overs at the National Stadium. Then Mendis entered the scene and spun the match on its head, taking 6-13 as the holders retained their title.

Jayawardene said of his seemingly inspired bowling change: "I had run out of options at that time. Virender was batting really well, and the only way of controlling the Indian batting line-up was taking wickets. "I knew the ball was probably a bit too new than to throw it to [Muttiah] Muralitharan. I took a gamble, and Ajantha picked up wickets, so it was brilliant." The potency of Mendis was due in part to the fact the Indians had never seen his bowling up close before. The 23-year-old spinner had played just one series for Sri Lanka before arriving in Pakistan, and was tactically withdrawn from the line-up for their previous match against India.

"We felt he needed a bit of rest, so we rested him," said Jayawardene. "I don't know if it worked or not. "We knew he is something new, and we had that in our armoury that we could use him in different ways. Even if we had played Mendis, who knows? India might have beaten us on that day. It is all ifs and buts. That is the way the game goes. "He played a big part in it, but it is difficult for an individual to win a match on his own. Every guy who stopped a run, who took a catch, who scored a run contributed as well.

"I don't think we would have had a competitive score if it wasn't for Sanath Jayasuriya's innings. He changed the game, and Tillekaratne Dilshan helped him." The Asia Cup win marked a turnaround in fortunes for Sri Lanka, who had suffered a slump in form after reaching last year's World Cup final. Jayawardene said: "After the World Cup, we had a few changes in our set up. I'm not making excuses, but we had a few injuries, and we didn't play to our potential. We were very disappointed with that whole effort, and we knew that when we came back, we wanted to come back strong.

"We didn't have the killer instinct to finish games. I think we did that in the tournament." @Email:pradley@thenational.ae