It has been 17 long years, since Sri Lanka won a Test against Australia, their own win against the number one Test-playing nation before Pallekele. That finally changed on Saturday, against all odds. Having been bowled out for a paltry 117 in the first innings, Sri Lanka fought back sensationally to win the Test by 106 runs and create history. The incredible comeback was given the finishing touches by veteran left-arm spinner Rangana Herath and left-arm chinaman bowler Lakshan Sandakan, who was making his debut. The duo claimed eight wickets in combination.
Resuming at 83 for 3, the visitors quickly succumbed to 157 for 8. But then, Peter Nevill and Steve O’Keefe featured in a sensational blockathon. The pair were together for 178 balls, and scored only four runs, a boundary by O’Keefe, who did not give up in spite of being hampered by a hamstring injury. He had luck on side as well, as the brave often have. He survived a huge shout for bat-pad off Dhananjaya de Silva. Replays showed he edged it, Sri Lanka had exhausted their reviews. A couple of overs later, O’Keefe was given lbw, but he reviewed it, and was saved by an edge.
Sri Lanka’s frustrating period was eventually brought to an end by de Silva, who managed to break Nevill’s incredible resistance. De Silva managed to have the Aussie wicket-keeper caught behind for 9 from 115 balls. With the stand broken, O’Keefe followed Nevill soon after, as Sri Lanka celebrated in jubilant fashion. Fittingly, it was Herath who picked up the last wicket to set in the celebrations. O’Keefe tried to flick Herath through the leg side, only to end up being bowled. O’Keefe’s resistance lasted for 105 minutes as Herath finished with 5 for 54.
Sri Lanka beat the conditions and an earlier resistance from Aussie skipper Steven Smith to take the series lead. The day began on a highly emphatic note for the hosts. Herath struck in the eighth over of the day, as Adam Voges advanced down the ground, and chipped Herath back to the bowler for 12. The decision was referred to the third umpire, who confirmed it wasn’t a bump ball. Smith and Mitchell Marsh came together, and added 43 for the fifth wicket. While they were at the crease, Australia had their best chance of chasing down the tough target.
Herath, it was again, who broke the partnership, trapping Marsh lbw for 25 by getting one to straighten. Smith survived a caught behind against Sandakan courtesy a review. But, having passed his half-century, he was eventually dismissed for 55. He was trapped lbw by Herath, again with one that straightened from round the wicket, and beat Smith’s defence. Smith went for a review more out of hope, but could not be saved this time. Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon both fell to Sandakan’s skill. The stubborn resistance by Nevill and O’Keefe frustrated Lanka, but in the end the hosts proved to be too good for Australia.
--By A Cricket Correspondent