Rangana Herath’s 24th five-wicket haul helped Sri Lanka register a 106-run win in the first Test at the Pallekele International Cricket Stadium in Kandy on Saturday (July 30). The victory was only the second time the Asian side managed to triumph over Australia in the longest format of the game. With that win, Sri Lanka take a laudable 1-0 lead to the three-match Test series.
The final day of the Test began with Australia requiring 185 runs and Sri Lanka needing seven wickets to win. Rain threatened to play spoilsport after spells of showers resulted in a delayed start. With dark clouds looming around, they suggested the likelihood of poorer possibilities to the outcome of the match. Play eventually began after a 75-minute delay.
The overnight batsmen – Adam Voges and Steve Smith kicked-off proceedings watchfully against the left-arm spin duo of Herath and Lakshan Sandakan. While Voges played off the backfoot, Smith preferred going down to the pitch of the ball. Voges attacked the spinners and Smith departed early playing a full delivery back to the bowler.
Herath took a return catch, but didn’t appeal, nor did the wicketkeeper. It was only a convincing shout from Angelo Mathews, stationed at first slip, that forced the on-field umpires to seek aid from the third umpire – the result of which was a visibly disappointed Voges having to make the long walk back to the pavilion.
Sri Lanka managed to curb the flow of runs by employing a smart field to Smith. Four fielders were stationed inside the inner circle on the leg side – a forward short leg, two fielders in the midwicket region and a short mid on – stationed to block Smith’s flicks on the on side. The move worked and frustrated the Australian captain, limiting his scoring shots.
But as the day progressed and the ball started coming on slowly after pitching, Smith had little difficulty in find scoring opportunities in other parts of the ground. He put on 43 runs with Mitchell Marsh for the fifth wicket. While Marsh hit three boundaries, Smith worked the ball around to vacant areas and gave the chase some momentum with singles and twos. In the process, he also brought up his 17th Test fifty, and only the second 50-plus score of the match.
However, just when Australia looked like they were on the brink of taking command of the match, Sri Lanka struck back with three wickets in quick succession. Marsh played the wrong line to Herath and was trapped leg before wicket. The umpire adjudged him not out, but had to reverse his decision after Sri Lanka reviewed the decision.
As difficult as it was for the batsmen to play spinners on the fifth day track, it was a testing morning for the umpires too. After failing to spot Voges’s and Mitchell Marsh’s dismissal, even Smith was wrongly given out caught behind. The Australian skipper went for a review rightaway and the decision was overturned.
But that didn’t help matters much for Smith as he followed Marsh back to the pavilion soon after. This time, it was Herath who had him trapped just before lunch. Even though he knew his fate, Smith chanced upon his luck with a review. Unfortunately for him, the day wasn’t as bad for the on-field umpires as he would’ve thought.
The pressure and momentum turned after Smith’s departure, and the body language of the Sri Lanka fielders picked up. Mitchell Starc offered an easy return catch to Sandakan at the stroke of lunch as Australia were left reeling at 141 for 7.
Nathan Lyon looked compact early on in the post-lunch session, before the offspinner was undone by a Sandakan delivery that turned in sharply. Steve O’Keefe, who had injured his right hamstring, came out to bat at the fall of the eighth wicket, but looked out of sorts against the Sri Lankan spin duo. Peter Nevill too survived for long despite being beaten time and again.
The frustration for the Sri Lankans was only to grow as the duo put up a strong resistance with a 29.4-over stand for the ninth wicket which yielded only four runs. The partnership included only one scoring shot – a sweep by O’Keefe for a boundary.
O’Keefe could’ve fallen earlier, but umpire Richard Kettleborough turned down an appeal for a bat-pad catch. Even as replays suggested otherwise, Sri Lanka didn’t have a review left with them; they had wasted two of them in marginal calls.
It didn’t take the best of deliveries to bring the partnership to an end. Dhananjay de Silva bowled a delivery wide and short, tempting Nevill to play a cut. He ended up edging the ball to the wicketkeeper, putting an end to the resistance. The last wicket pair couldn’t hold on too longer. O’Keefe tried to shield Josh Hazlewood, but ended up getting castled by Herath’s full-pitched delivery, as he finished with figures of 5 for 54, with nine wickets in the match.
Brief Scores: Sri Lanka 117 (Dhananjaya de Silva 24; Nathan Lyon 3-12, Hazlewood 3-20, Steve O’Keefe 2-32) and 353 (Kusal Mendis 176, Chandimal 41; Mitchell Starc 4-62) lead Australia 203 (Adam Voges 47, Mitchell Marsh 31; Rangana Herath 4-49, Lakshan Sandakan 4-58) and 141/7 (Steve Smith 55, Joe Burns 29; Rangana Herath 5-54, Lakshan Sandakan 3-49) by 106 runs.