Sri Lanka did not go into the Pallekele Test high on confidence. They were crushed in England, and were on the back foot for one half of the first Test against Australia. But, the hosts fought back brilliantly to register a historic win against the Aussies, their first against the number one Test team in the world in 17 years, and only their second overall. Having been bowled for 117 in the first innings, the Lankans had a tough task on hand. But, first their bowlers, and then their batsmen, put their hands up, and eventually, Sri Lanka managed to turn the tide.
While there were a few significant performers in the Test, it was undoubtedly Kusal Mendis’ knock that stood out. After, Sri Lanka conceded a crucial lead in the first innings, Mendis walked in with the score at 6 for 2, and Sri Lanka staring at an innings defeat. But, just as Dinesh Chandimal did against India at Galle in the first Test last year, Mendis came in and blasted the Australia bowlers to all parts of the ground. In a match where Steven Smith was the only other batsman to score a fifty, Mendis blazed away to 176. It was a one of a kind knock that caught Australia off-guard.
Truly Mendis’ knock was the turning point of the game. But, the performance of Rangana Herath was no less significant. It was clearly mentioned in the preview to the series that the veteran left-arm spinner will have to play a key role if Sri Lanka had hopes of winning. And, he lived up to his reputation. In the first innings, Herath’s took four, and in the second, he claimed five to finish with an impressive tally of nine wickets. The Australian batsmen failed to read his variations, and were found wanting. Herath chipped in with the bat as well, making a crucial 35 in the second innings.
Apart from Herath’s heroics, the debutant Lakshan Sandakan also impressed. For a newcomer against the world’s best side on paper, he displayed good control, and was aptly rewarded. He picked up 4 for 58 in the first innings, and 3 for 49 in the second. Sri Lanka would be mighty pleased with his showing in his very first Test. Although he did not play a big knock, Dinesh Chandimal’s 42 in the second innings was worth a lot more. Also, Dhananjaya de Silva contributed a crucial 30, and also picked up the wicket of the stoic Peter Nevill on the last day.
What Sri Lanka have proved with their fight back is that Australia are not invincible. In fact, the hosts exposed the visitors’ weakness against spin. The fact that Smith was the only batsman to cross fifty was an indication of the same. While all their main bowlers, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Steve O’Keefe and Nathan Lyon, were impressive with the ball, question marks have been raised about their batting prowess under the conditions. David Warner and co will have a point to prove going into the second Test.
--By A Cricket Analyst