Prabath Jayasuriya capped an incredible Test debut with 12 wickets as Australia were left without any answers in a crushing innings defeat.

Prabath Jayasuriya 12 wickets
Prabath Jayasuriya claimed 12 wickets spun Sri Lanka to victory with a match haul of 12-177. (Image: CA)

A game that was affected by protests and a nation that is seeing its worst crisis, this innings and 39 runs win for Sri Lanka against Australia in the second Test match in Galle is an important event in its cricketing history. Even from a global cricket point of view, this is a significant development. Here is a report from the recently concluded Test match between the two nations where we try to explain the impact of this result.

In recent times, it would be fair to admit, cricket has turned into a four-nation sport with New Zealand, India, Australia, and England dominating world cricket. Irrespective of the format, they have always been at the top. Since 2015, these four teams figure in the knockout stages of almost all ICC tournaments. The reasons could be their strong domestic structures or world class T20 leagues, but mostly it is the economic power that these nations yield, especially the big three of India, England and Australia.

Here is a table showing the performances of the top 4 in ICC tournaments since 2015:

A decade ago, world cricket was not as lopsided as it is today. South Africa, West Indies and Sri Lanka had formidable teams with greats such as Jacques Kallis, AB de Villers, Dale Steyn, Mahela Jayawardene, Muttiah Muralitharan, Kumar Sangakkara and Chris Gayle propelling their respective sides to great heights. And it was not just any single format; each format of the game had good competition. Even Zimbabwe and Kenya would spring an odd surprise.

However, not all cricket boards enjoy the same economic position as the top teams do. The respective boards of South Africa, West Indies and Sri Lanka had to deal with a lot of premature retirements and players opting out of national duty due to some highly lucrative T20 leagues. Internal politics and run-ins with and within the boards didn’t help matters. All this led to the weakening of their national teams with inexperienced players turning up in national colours, thereby widening the gulf between the big four and rest of the teams.

Sri Lanka have yet to recover since the retirement of their stalwarts Jayawardene, Sangakkara, Muralitharan and Rangana Herath. Although it isn’t easy to replace such legends, the replacements have been a pale shadow of their predecessors. Sri Lankan cricket had their share of early retirements too with Lasith Malinga, Suranga Lakmal, Danushka Gunathilaka to name a few, which prompted Sri Lanka Cricket to issue new guidelines, similar to corporate notice periods in a bid to curb the attrition rate.

Of course Covid-19 didn’t spare Sri Lankan cricket either. Two of their important series which were part of the World Test Championship got cancelled and the Asia Cup was postponed. Domestic competitions went haywire. Players and support staff got infected on tours and were called back. Touring teams got infected as well. Sri Lankan cricket had seen it all: players involved in drunken brawl, players suspended, corruption, players involved in pay dispute with the board.

Dimuth Karunaratne
Dimuth Karunaratne had plenty on his mind heading into the second Test. (Image: ICC)

And then, outside of cricket, there was – sorry, is – this year’s political and economic crisis in Sri Lanka which stemmed from the power struggle between former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the country’s Parliament and cued anti-government protests and demonstrations by the public. Thankfully for Sri Lanka, the Australians agreed to tour for a full series which gave the country’s cricket fans plenty to cheer about.

Australia won the first Test in Galle, and when Sri Lanka lost further players to positive Covid cases the home team was forced to play three debutants in the second match. But, as we have seen countless times in cricket, lesser-fancied players have the ability to rise to the occasion and make a statement. This was witnessed in Galle, where Sri Lanka won one of the most important Test matches in cricket history.

Yes, it was at home, with the pitch assisting spin from day one, but it was by no means an unplayable one. Steven Smith and Marnus Labuschagne batted beautifully on what was a typical subcontinent pitch, each scoring stroke-filled hundreds in the first innings. But David Warner had a poor game, Travis Head was clueless against spin and Usman Khwaja got two starts but could not convert. When Sri Lanka batted, Nathan Lyon beat the batsmen innumerable times without much luck. Many chances went amiss. The wicketkeepers from both teams missed several stumping opportunities.

The platform for Sri Lanka’s remarkable Test win was setup by the batsmen, with many important partnerships. Dimuth Karunaratne led from the front with a crucial partnership with Kushal Mendis and the senior most player in the team, Angelo Mathews, made a useful contribution. It was classic Test match batting, aggression mixed with caution, slowly closing in on Australia’s first-innings score. All this helped to lay the foundation for a scintillating batting performance by Dinesh Chandimal. Although lucky early on, with missed chances and an edge to the ‘keeper that was given not out, Chandimal went on to score his first double-century, which he brought up in typical Sehwag style with a six.

Dinesh Chandimal double hundred
Dinesh Chandimal scored an unbeaten 206 against Australia in Galle. (Image: AFP)

Bowling wise, left-arm spinner Prabhath Jayasuriya caused havoc with 12 wickets on Test debut, the best by a Sri Lankan bowler. What was extremely impressive was how the batsmen were not always beaten due to spin alone, but rather some  old school flight and dip. When there was spin on both ends and runs were difficult to come by, like all non-subcontinent batsmen the Australians too reverted to playing the sweep only to find the ball thrashing into their pads right in front of the stumps.

A word about the umpiring, too. Senior ICC umpire Kumar Dharmasena had a bad game. In what was a long Sri Lankan innings, the Australian bowlers had so many decisions not going in their favour after exhausting all their reviews. The ICC should consider reverting to two neutral umpires, since travel has eased up everywhere.

Nevertheless, it was a classic comeback. Being 0-1 down in the series, chasing a huge first-innings total, Sri Lanka put up a fight back like never before. Their spinners came to the party and helped Sri Lanka to a massive win. There is always room for improvement, of course, but it was pleasing to see that Sri Lanka’s domestic first-class structure is still thriving with the influx of talented debutants who won this Test match for them. This win signifies that there is no dearth of talent in Sri Lankan cricket, and I hope this leads Sri Lanka to become a formidable opponent once again. The more the competition, the better it is for cricket,

For a  country that is going through economic and political turmoil, Sri Lanka’s win against Australia is a glimmer of hope. Cricket provides hope and momentary relief, and this win could be considered a moment to look up to for the nation in the current situation. Eleven men, in the face of adversity, turned up and put a stellar performance against a strong opposition and came out victorious. History has shown that sporting achievements have often stirred nation’s conscience and given them hope. As skipper Karunaratne said, “We are here to bring smiles on people’s faces”.

Written by N.V.Krishna

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