Five things we learnt from 1st Test vs Australia

Sri Lanka finally won a Test match in 2016. Their record in 2016 is so abysmal that this is their 2nd win against a Test playing nation.
 

Matches Won Lost Tied Draw NR W/L
27 6 17 1 1 2 0.352

Source – Statguru, ESPN Cricinfo

The 6 wins in 2016 comprised with a T20I win vs India in February, a T20I win vs UAE in March, a T20I win vs Afghanistan in March, 2 ODI wins over Ireland in June and 1st Test vs Australia in July. This is a pretty poor outing from an International Test side.

Sri Lanka had been a dominant home team over the years but since South Africa toured in 2014 that record is being further tarnished by Pakistan and India in 2015 apart from a consolation 2 Tests vs clueless West Indies.

Then comes this win vs the world no.1 Test team Australia. Fans are overjoyed and smiles are back on the faces of Angelo Mathews and the team who went through a rough period before that. Such is the win means to them. This win is more remarkable because of a gritty comeback led by a new comer Kusal Mendis and the old man Rangana Herath who led the bowling surge with a rookie china-man Lakshan Sandakan along with a spirited team effort. Following are five things I would like to focus on from the match.

Kusal Mendis
The new comer who is just 6 Test matches old, produced one of the best rear-guard match winning efforts in the Sri Lanka Cricket history as well as in the Test Cricket history, against a quality bowling attack in word no.1 Test playing nation on a tricky pitch, on the way of recording his maiden Test ton. This innings itself defined the batsman inside him and brought him the recognition as a new batting talent. What is more pleasing to see over the 6 matches he played before this is his immaculate temperament which he showcased throughout this match winning effort once more, which was not seen in many new comers, who debuted over the past five or six years.

Coaches, team members, peers and even our own great Kumar Sangakkara lauds him as a great batsman and in my opinion it is still early to compare him with any other at this point of his career. The best thing for him and the team is that him not becoming complacent and not taking things for granted, but continuing his immaculate temperament which is highly regarded.

Helpful Conditions
It was seen in the recent past that few fast bowlers emerged through the ranks and did pretty well over the last three or four years in the likes of Suranga Lakmal, Shaminda Eranga, Nuwan Pradeep, Dushmantha Chameera and Dhammika Prasad. Also it was seen more wickets were prepared to suit fast bowling in the recent past. This pitch preparation certainly helped Sri Lanka in a way that nobody thought so. It helped Sri Lanka to win the Test series in England 1-0 in 2014 due to the emergence of these pace bowlers.

But sometimes this strategy back fired in big time in matches such as New Zealand in 2012, South Africa in 2014. On the contrary, the other way around which is preparing spin friendly wickets, back fired too, in cases like India and Pakistan in 2015.

The unavailability of the mentioned fast bowlers for selection due to injuries and due to the lack of experience of the selected ones in the squad, logical solution was to prepare a spin wicket for the match. In the end the result of the match hung on how well spinners of the two sides, extracted assistance out of the track which I thought Sri Lanka spinners reveled on helpful conditions and Australia spinners couldn’t do so.

Also the curator has to be lauded for the effort he put in to prepare this kind of a challenging wicket and it has to be said that this wicket did not have any extreme conditions as Nagpur pitch where India and South Africa played in 2015 or Headingly pitch where Sri Lanka and England played in 2016. This was another challenging pitch where everyone had something to share given Mitchell Starc picked up an 8fer in the match.

Tail Scoring Invaluable Runs
Sri Lanka team has a soft tail compared to most of the other teams. I consider tail when 7 wickets down, hence partnerships for 8th, 9th and 10th wickets are considered here. Sri Lanka won this match by 106 runs and apparently almost the winning margin consists of the runs the tail scored in both innings combined. In the first innings those three wickets scored 30 runs and in the second innings they scored 63 runs in a total of 93 runs in the match. This match is a clear example of the importance of the runs scored by tail.

Rangana Herath
Herath the Mr. Reliable led the bowling department as expected. Herath being the sole standing person from the 1999 winning squad vs Aussies led Sri Lanka to victory this time around. His immaculate accuracy, wily variations of pace and flight and subtlety threatened the Aussies as soon as he took the new ball in the 1st innings of Australia when he picked up Joe Burns with a straighter one. He took a match bag of 9 for 103 including his 24th Test fifer on the way of setting a world record of most number of fifers in 4th innings of a Test match, which is 7,  doing it in 6 innings fewer than Murali and 24 innings fewer than Warne.

Not only did his bowling help Sri Lanka but his batting in both innings too. He scored 41 runs in the match and took on Starc and co. in the 2nd innings to score 35 and with Nuwan Pradeep, the no. 11 they scored 30 runs for the last wicket which proved to be pivotal for setting a competitive total on a challenging pitch. Off late he has become useful in batting as well. Even in the England tour he was very effective with the bat.

Herath aged 38 had stated that he is playing only Test Cricket, as he would be able to focus on this format of the game and it is clearly visible how he has developed his game to a dependable level. But our selectors must consider this as a warning as he won’t be in the game for much long and they must focus on introducing another spinner or two before it will be too late.

Introduction of new faces
Rangana Herath didn’t do it alone though. He found an able partner in crime in Lakshan Sandakan, the debutant. The rookie china-man bowler set a new record of highest number of wickets a china-man bowler picked up in his debut Test, 7 for 107. He does add a new dimension to our bowling attack. Being a wrist spinner with a well-disguised wrong’un which bamboozled few Aussie batsmen, even Steve Smith and Adam Voges, and turning china-mans, he will provide a much needed attacking option to our bowling attack and specially a perfect ally for Rangana Herath.

The other debutant, Dhanajaya De Silva also showcased that he is a capable batsman at this level. Top scoring in the 1st innings and providing much needed support for the hero of the match, Kusal Mendis to form a 71 run partnership, he will be a good addition to the batting department and he was not fazed by things around him and look settled most of the time for a big score, but his over eagerness prevented him from making it.

As Andrew F. Fernando stated in his column, it was these new faces with old hands combined made this victory possible although everybody as a team worked towards this victory.

But if Sri Lanka to be consistent in the long run and to win this series in coming weeks, senior players in the ranks of Angelo Mathews, Dinesh Chandimal, Dimuth Karunarathne and Kaushal Silva must compliment with the young batsmen and they should actually make sure they take the maximum out of these youngsters.

This young team provided Sri Lankan fans joy after quite a while and hope they will grow in confidence rather being complacent and over confident and give us more things to be happy at the end of this Test series. Good luck Lions!

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