The young brigade of Sri Lanka finally produces a dominating performance in Test after suffering a humiliating defeat in and outside their country. Coming back from a 2-0 defeat in England, Sri Lanka’s inexperienced young brigade produced an upset against Australia as they defeated the visitor by 106 runs at Pallekele International Cricket Stadium.
This was Australia’s seventh consecutive defeat in Asia. They lost to India 4-0 in 2013, Pakistan beat them in UAE in 2014 and now Sri Lanka bamboozled them by 106 runs in the first Test of the three-match series.
This was Sri Lanka’s first victory against a top Test team in the world after their victory against West Indies in 2015.
The transition phase
The Island nation was prosperous with the talent pool. Their rise started in 1990 when batsmen like Aravinda de Silva, Sanath Jayasuriya, and Marvan Attapattu led the team to greatness along with bowlers like Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan. After the retirement of Aravinda, Jayasuriya, and Atapattu, the transition had gone well as Sri Lanka had Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene and a fast bowler and a spinner like Lasith Malinga and Muralitharan respectively.
The rise of a wonder like Ajanta Mendis also helped Sri Lanka to make the home a fortress.
But in 2014 and in 2015 first Malinga, and then Jayawande and Kumara Sangakkara’s retirement made the Emerald Island a weak team both at overseas and home.
A new team full of young blood crawled against Pakistan and India. But as they toured England they were exposed and lost the series 2-0 to the arguably best team in current times. But Sri Lankan players got confidence from that tour, so in the first Test against Australia they didn’t give up easily.
In the first innings, Angelo Matthews’ Sri Lanka folded up for 117 runs thanks to Nathan Lyon’s three wickets haul while Steve O’Keefe and medium pacer Josh Hazlewood too took three wickets respectively to bowl out Sri Lanka for a paltry total. Debutant Dhananjaya de Silva and Kusal Perera displayed some resistance during their quick innings of 38-ball 24 runs and 15-ball 20 runs but that was not enough.
The slow track in this rainy seasons assisted spinners. When Australia came to bat, they found out it is difficult against an experienced Rangana Herath and a debutant Lakshan Sandakan who took four wickets each to curtail Australia for just 203 runs. Australia got an 86 runs lead which looked a good lead for the visitor considering the condition of the pitch. But it was understood that a 200-run lead for Sri Lanka will make the match interesting. Sri Lankan middle order batsman Kusal Mendis, who played only seven Test so far, produced a well-paced innings which changed the course of the match. Mendis’ 176 run innings, which resembled former Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene’s batting style, helped Sri Lanka to get a 267-run lead. Along with Mendis; Dinesh Chandimal and Dhanajaya de Silva made small but important contributions of 42 and 36 runs respectively.
After Kusal Mendis’ magnum opus, Rangana Hearth sliced through the Australian batting. Hearth’s five wickets haul sealed the match for the host as Sri Lanka won it by a healthy margin of 106 runs. David Warner was the first man to go as Herath castled him. The second wicket was opener Joe Burns who was bowled by an absolute ripper from a debutante mystery spinner Lakshan Sandakan. On day four attacking Usman Khawaja was trapped lbw by Rangana Herath.
On fifth day morning, Australia started at 83 for 3 with captain Steve Smith and Adam Voges at the crease. On the eighth over of the day, Adam Voges offered a return catch to Herath. Voges, who has an astonishing average of 87.25, looked visibly annoyed with his poor batting display in this Test.
Captain Steve Smith tried hard but he found Herath and Sandakan’s spin too good for him. He was trapped lbw by Herath. Smith took the review but it didn’t work for him as he was given out by the third umpire. While Herath was taking wickets at a regular interval, young Sandakan kept the pressure on from the other end as he took three wickets.
Nevill and O’keefe scored zero in 22 overs
However, there was a dramatic situation in the last session of the day as the 9th wicket partnership between Peter Nevill and Steve O’keefe tried to block the spin duo for 25 years to drag the match to draw. For 22 consecutive overs they failed to score a single run, which is a world record, but an infamous one. Nevill and O’keefe would never like to remember it in their life.
However, Nevill and Steve O’keefe’s hard work finally went in vain as Herath’s delivery went through the of O’keefe’s defence.
Sri Lanka has notched up a famous victory. This match is a good advertisement for Test cricket as it was a good tussle between bowlers and batsmen and went till the second last session of the match.
Sri Lankan spinners once again tormented Australia, who is yet to get rid of spin phobia. With that loss, Australia lost seven consecutive matches in Asia.
After losing the match a dejected Steve Smith said: “it is disappointing”. “I said before the game that we haven’t played well in subcontinent conditions for quite a while now. It’s something that, under my captaincy, I want to change. There were glimpses throughout this game that we’ve improved in some aspects but I think we just let ourselves down a lot as well.”
Smith is the first innings got out like a No. 11 batsman trying to smash a spinner for a big shot which was criticized by former Australian captain Allan Border.
But on the other hand, winning captain Angelo Matthews is now a relieved and a relaxed man. He will go in the second Test at Galle with more confidence. “After a rough, tough six to eight months, we needed that victory,” Mathews said. “In that time, there was a situation where fans were turning away from us. As cricketers, we feel that, because when we play well everyone loves you. Even when you lose they may love you, but they are also disappointed. The best thing was to win this match for the fans. It’s a great win for those who stayed with us, and we thank them because that support means a lot.
Now the question is will this victory help Sri Lanka to make their home a durable fort once again? The next two matches of the series will tell many things about Sri Lankan cricket’s future.
As of now the home team has got a rare opportunity to win the series against the World No. 1 to regain the tag- invincible at home.