Adelaide: Desperate to win their first match of the tournament, senior Sri Lanka batsman Kumar Sangakkara put up a brave front ahead of his team's match against India in the ODI tri-series in Adelaide on Tuesday.
"Our strength has always been playing India away from India. India are always strong in India, with the smaller grounds and conditions they are used to. But away from home, we have always done very well against them," said Sangakkara, trying to play some mind games despite the fact that his statements cannot be backed by facts.
In Australia, India have lost only one out of six matches against Sri Lanka. In England, there is again a solitary loss from five games, and the only time the two teams met in South Africa, India prevailed handsomely. India did lose to Sri Lanka by 69 runs in the 2007 World Cup group league match and they have a 19-26 win-loss ratio in Sri Lanka, but overall they have had a superior record over their island neighbours in 50-over format.
Even in Sri Lanka, in the last 17 matches, India have emerged victors in 10. In India, of course, they enjoy a 29-11 win-loss record. Overall, India have won 69 and lost 50 matches, with no-result in 11 matches.
Still, Sangakkara was right on his money when he stressed his team needed to win at least four of the remaining six league matches.
"You have got to win a minimum of four games to have any chance of qualifying for the finals. Tomorrow is another opportunity."
Sri Lanka have so far played two matches and lost both, though they could have easily ended up as winners in one of those games.
"Yeah, I think so. We should have been one up by now. Unfortunately, we aren't. As soon as we get a game right with the batsmen batting a lot better than they did and having more partnerships, we stand a very good chance."
Sangakkara's oblique reference was to their last game against Australia in Perth, when they failed to chase down a small target of 232 under lights at the WACA.
"I think it was close because Angelo Matthews really got there in the end. There was a time when we were out of it. It was a case of not building enough partnerships and losing too many wickets too soon. It was a wicket that was quite flat in the end. We couldn't capitalize on the opportunity."
"Once you have restricted them to 230, it's a case of having enough batsmen in the shed by the time you hit the 40th over. We didn't do that."
The veteran southpaw doesn't feel that the bounce of the WACA pitch did his team in the other night.
"I think the Perth wicket was good for us too. If you are a batsman and in the evening under the lights, the wicket settles down beautifully. You can really enjoy batting," he said. "Adelaide Oval too is as good for the batsmen over the years. Everyone is looking forward to it. Again as a unit, collectively we have got to be a bit smarter and also be able to win those big moments."
Sri Lanka have changed their captain and coach, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Geoff Marsh, and their players haven't been paid since the last World Cup, and Sangakkara agrees that it has been a tough period for his side.
"I think the last six months have been a bit tough for us, in the sense of direction and planning. Going forward, it's a case of getting our structure right and letting everyone be as free as possible mentally, to be able to go out there and play."
Motivation is key, feels Sangakkara, especially for the older lot.
"That's one of the most important things. Putting pressure on players for training, to get their game up to a level, that's needed to compete, but when you enter a game allow them to be as free as possible. But then if you are young, you don't need any motivation. The greatest thing as a player is to be able to play. Whatever troubles you have off the field, whatever issues you have off the field, when you are on the park, I don't think anyone thinks of those things. The way the players think and the way those making decisions think doesn't always add up. That's the way cricket has always been."
Although Dilshan had a rocky stint as captain, Sangakkara seemed sympathetic.
"Dilshan had a tough six months. The decision-making group at the time, which included Dilshan, probably thought it was a tough period. They had to make some very tough decisions, but unfortunately, we were not as successful as we were before. In competitive cricket, sometimes, it's all that counts. Unfortunately, Dilshan decided to resign. That we have gone back to Mahela (Jayawardene) at this point of time is a very good decision. We need a tighter structure as to how we are going to progress over the next three years," Sangakkara assessed.
"Once it is set, it's easier for anyone else like Angelo Matthews, who will probably take over at some time."
Despite the upheaval in the team, the players, Sangakkara insist, have been very open and honest between themselves, including Dilshan.
"Ever since he (Dilshan) took up the captaincy to the time he gave up, we have been very open with him. We have been very forthcoming with our views to him. That's always been the case. No use leaving anything unsaid or undone, better to give everything out. That's always been the case with our team. We have always been very open and have have very honest communication."
The former Sri Lanka captain, with 106 Tests and 312 one-day internationals under his belt, needs only 42 more runs to complete his 10,000 runs in ODIs, and he also shared his thoughts on cricket greats Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid.
"Sachin and Dravid have been amazing players. They still are. If you take Dravid's England tour, it was amazing. Three centuries and he carried the whole batting on his shoulders. Sachin is still scoring runs and is a valuable player."
The Lankan glovesman stressed the importance of the influence these senior players have on the younger lot.
"At the end of the day, you weigh up what happens in the dressing room. What influence everyone has in the dressing room is as important as the performance on the field. It's really a call for India and (MS) Dhoni and the selectors, but it's hard to ever underestimate or downplay the abilities of Sachin and Dravid. They have been two of the best ever produced."
"If you take record of players, whether it's younger or older players, whoever has the best technique and adapts quicker always scores runs. You can't be 20 and not performing and in the side just because you are young."
Sangakkara felt age has never been a criterion for selection.
"It's better to have, whoever is performing, be he 25, 30 or even 40, playing. Brad Hogg is a great example. Even at 40, he is bowling better than probably any other spinner in Australia when it comes to Twenty20. At the end of the day, performance is what really counts. All the talk about age comes into play, when you are not performing."
"Great players are there for a reason. Being able to do what is expected of them. That is why everyone expects everything from people like Sachin. They know they can do it, they have done it before, and everyone knows they can do it again."