Whilst most of our attention has been focused on Australia’s recent efforts to win the 2012 Rabble of the Year competition, the small matter of a Test match series has been taking place over in Sri Lanka. We don’t need Tony Greig to tell us how nice Sri Lanka is this time of year, so 51allout hoped to be first in queue for tickets. Unfortunately, due to a fondness for bottled perry, we decided to sit around the Wetherspoon’s at Heathrow all day, idly chatting up the Slovenian bargirl and spending money on a quiz machine. It was only ten bottles of Bulmers later than we realised the plane to Colombo had left without us. In an attempt to rectify the situation, we called upon our Sri Lankan envoy Angus to file a report, but his copy seems to have mysteriously gone missing.
So, although we were forced to sober up in a rain-swept car-park somewhere near Hounslow and despite not technically having seen any play from the series, we still endeavour to bring you up to speed with what has been happening, cricket-wise, in Sri Lanka.
It was a familiar story in the first innings at Galle, as Sri Lanka’s 472 relied heavily on Tillakaratne Dilshan’s 101, Mahela Jayawardene’s 62 and Kumar Sangakkara’s 199*. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to Sri Lanka when they lose their experienced core. If only there was another nation going through a similar transition to give us a clue. Saeed Ajmal continued his rich form with 5/146, whilst Mohammad Hafeez took three late wickets to leave Sangakkara stranded. Pakistan’s reply was torturous: a snail-paced 100 from 54.3 overs, Younis Khan top scoring with 29. Suraj Randiv was the pick of the bowlers, thanks to an impressive 4/13 from his 13.1 overs.
Sri Lanka opted to bat again (triggering guffaws of incredulity all over the 51allout bunker) and Dilshan’s rapid 56 helped them to 137/5 before his skipper declared. A target of 510 was always going to be beyond the reach of Pakistan and, although they did bat a whole lot better second time around, they were bowled out for 300 – including 87 from Younis Khan and 80 from Asad Shafiq – and lost by a huge 209 run margin.
We usually have a lot of love for Mahela Jayawardene, but his decision to field first at the SSC tested that affection to its very limits. Azhar Ali (157) and Hafeez (196) shared a 287 run partnership for the second wicket while Taufeeq Umar and Misbah-ul-Haq also contributed half centuries as Pakistan posted 551/6. That the Sri Lankan response avoided the follow-on was largely down to two players (any guesses?); Sangakkara’s 192 was his 30th Test century (and 11th score in excess of 190), Dilshan’s 121 just his 14th. Abdur Rehman took 4/78, but the standout bowler was Junaid Khan with 5/73.
By the time Sri Lanka were dismissed the Test was in its final day. Pakistan sought quick runs, and found them as they racked up 100/2 in 18 overs, giving Sri Lanka an unlikely target of 261. Unfortunately, tea had already been taken by this point and Pakistan couldn’t quite manage to take ten wickets in the final session.
The Sri Lankan captain again won the toss and again fielded first, but this time his bowlers were able to restrict the visitors to just 226, with Thisara Perera bagging four wickets. Only Shafiq’s 75 saved Pakistan from total disaster. Sri Lanka took a significant lead, despite Sangakkara falling for a duck, as scores of 70+ from Perera, Thilan Samaraweera and Tharanga Paranavitana helped them to 337. Junaid Khan took his second 5-fer of the series, on his way to his 27th wicket from just eight Tests.
Needing a win to tie the series, Pakistan batted well, declaring on 380/8: Hafeez making 52, Ali 136 and Shafiq finishing a fine series with a hundred. This presented Sri Lanka with a chase of 270 for victory on the final day. For some reason they opted for the draw, batting solidly through for 195/4 from 62 overs. Dinesh Chandimal made 65 and Sangakkara another impressive 74*, securing his position as the number one ranked batsman in Test cricket.
The 1-0 series win for Sri Lanka was, perhaps surprisingly, their first since a certain spin bowler retired in 2009. That it was largely down to Sangakkara (average of 163.33) Dilshan and Herath (15 wickets across the series) certainly wasn’t surprising. Sri Lanka remain in sixth in the ICC rankings, two points and one place below Pakistan. The away team may have lost the series, but they should be encouraged by performances from Ali, Shafiq and Junaid Khan.
Sri Lanka now host India for more ODIs, Pakistan will travel to Sharjah to presumably spank Australia.