Mahela Jayawardene: We were third time lucky

It was an amazing feeling to win, a huge thrill and, of course, relief in many respects after getting so close so many times.

The Sri Lankan team celebrates with the trophy.   -  Getty Images

The build-up to our successful 2014 campaign was naturally dominated by the fact that we were so close, yet so far in previous ICC events. Runners-up in the 2007 and 2011 World Cup and also in the 2009 and 2012 ICC World Twenty20, we were desperate to get over the line in 2014. Our fans were also desperate, hoping that 2014 would be the year.

We had the same nucleus of the very strong 2012 team that lost to West Indies in Colombo, so we were not lacking in experience or skill. We had also been playing some good cricket in the lead-up to the tournament, including a victorious Asia Cup campaign in Bangladesh preceding the ICC World T20 — also in Bangladesh — which provided us an ideal insight into local conditions.

 

Given that we knew what conditions to expect and had such a settled team, we had very few selection issues going into the tournament. One of the main issues was the make-up of the top four, and in the end, we felt the exciting talent of >Kusal Perera deserved a chance, opening with Dilshan. So I pushed myself down to No. 3 and Sanga to No. 4.

The only other selection issue was working out the final balance of the team in terms of which bowling all-rounders to play at No. 7 and No. 8. We had Thisara Perera as a seam-bowling option and then Prasanna Seekkuge as a leg-spinning all-rounder. But the final choice had to depend on the opponents and the conditions.

Like in any tournament, you start by just focussing on how to get through the first round, and our first challenge was a very strong and dangerous South Africa. We won the tight game by just five runs. Our batting, led by Kusal Perera with 61 from 40 balls, really gave us confidence and was the perfect start.

We then crushed a poor Netherlands before hitting a brick wall against England. We had scored a very challenging total — 189 for 4 — but it was one of those nights in Chittagong when the dew was heavy and our spinners struggled to grip the ball. Ajantha Mendis was bowling full tosses and Alex Hales, 116 from 64 balls, played one of the innings of his life.

Defeat to England left us with a do-or-die clash against New Zealand. We were put in to bat and really struggled. They bowled aggressively and with discipline and we were only able to scramble together a below-par 119 all out. However, remarkably, that proved easy enough to defend, as >Rangana Herath produced an amazing spell of classical left-arm spin.

I have never seen anything like it, to be honest. Rangana just ripped New Zealand to shreds, taking five wickets for just three runs in 3.3 overs. It was superb, masterful bowling. The win gave us a huge amount of confidence because it showed us that our bowlers could win us matches as well as the batsmen.

That carried us to the semi-finals, which was a re-run of our 2012 final against West Indies that had ended in a disaster. We knew it was going to be a tough match and we needed to control their dangerous power-hitters. We started decently with the openers scoring but then lost our way a little and in the end Angelo (Mathews), with help from Thirimanne, powered us to a respectable 160 for 6.

The bowlers then bowled brilliantly, especially Lasith coming on first-change to get rid of Smith and Gayle, the two big, dangerous players. Lasith was backed by the other bowlers, especially the three miserly spinners, and we had secured a firm grip on the game before a spectacular hailstorm intervened. We were well ahead on DWL and were into yet another final.

Going into the final against India, the general consensus amongst the players and management, including the senior players, was that we would be better off batting first and getting runs on the board. However, Lasith, captaining in his first major event after >Dinesh Chandimal unselfishly dropped himself, felt strongly that the best way to beat India was to chase. His argument was strengthened by the probability that dew might be a factor and would make it harder for the bowlers later. It proved a good call from the skipper.

We started strongly with the early wicket of Rahane, and although Virat and Rohit built a partnership, we kept a check on the run rate. When we dropped Virat early on, I must admit, I thought, “Oh no, not another big mistake in a final”. But although he batted beautifully for his 77, we kept the lid on the runs at the other end with some exceptional bowling, especially in the last five overs of the innings.

Lasith’s tactics were simple: India’s batsmen will murder you if you bowl too straight. He wanted to restrict their scoring to one side of the wicket and did so by bowling wide and forcing them to hit into the off-side. The plan was executed really well and they finished with just 130.

We did not start well, losing Kusal and were 42 for 2 when Dilshan walked back. Things got worse shortly — 65 for 3 — when I played a bad stroke. When Thiri was out cheaply India were back in the game, but Lasith made another bold call, sending in Thisara instead of Angelo and asking him to take on the spinners and help Sanga.

Sanga had been quiet all tournament but he chose the right moment to deliver and he also stepped on the accelerator, the pair taking the game away from India. It was an amazing feeling to win, a huge thrill and, of course, relief in many respects after getting so close so many times.