- Sri Lanka Vs. Australia 1st Test
By Dinouk Colombage
Australia overcame a rearguard effort from Sri Lanka to ease to victory by 125 runs on the fourth day of the first test at Galle and take a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.
Fast bowler Ryan Harris was the chief destroyer for the tourists with figures of 5 for 62 – his second five-wicket haul in tests.
When the hosts began the day on a perilous 120 for 5 – a long way off from their victory target of 379 – most observers expected the game to be over before lunch, however the overnight pair of Mahela Jayawardena and Angelo Matthews had other ideas.
The duo batted throughout the morning session with great application to deny Australia any breakthrough before lunch mixing caution with some measured aggression as they grew in confidence.
The pitch seemed to have flattened out and was devoid of any of the terrors that it had on the first three days as for the first time in the game a whole session passed without any wickets falling.
Immediately after lunch the tourists took the new ball and had almost instant results when they captured the prized wicket of Jayawardena for 105.
The sixth wicket pair had added a record 142 runs and Jayawardena had just completed his century when fast bowler Harris got one to sneak past and hit the top of off stump via an inside edge.
The sixth wicket stand of 142 was nearly three times the next best partnership in the entire game – 56 for the third wicket by Michael Clarke and Phil Hughes for Australia – which underscores the value of the Jayawardena-Matthews effort in the context of the game.
Jayawardena had helped ease the pain of the loss for the home supporters as he not only notched up a hundred but also equalled Sir Don Bradman’s record of 29 centuries, taking him to equal tenth on the all time list.
His wicket opened the door to the tail, and Australia was able to clean up the remaining batsmen with little trouble.
Alongside the class of Jayawardena, under pressure vice-captain Angelo Mathews also stepped forward as he played a mature innings of 95, missing out on his maiden test century for the second time.
On a wicket that was flattening out and slowing down, the bowlers were made to toil all morning. Jayawardena’s wicket lifted the Australian spirits as Mitchell Johnson removed Suraj Randiv for a duck with a rising delivery at his chest.
With Mathews fast approaching his hundred, the sensible thing to do by the other batsmen would have been to ensure he reached this milestone. Rangana Herath, who had bowled well throughout the match, certainly did not look like he was going to block out an end. Choosing instead to take the attack to the bowlers, Herath slashed at ever delivery scoring a quick fire 12. Harris quickly ended his vigil as he was caught at short midwicket trying to pull a short ball that rose awkwardly.
Mathews was running out of partners while sitting in the nervous nineties. Shane Watson was brought back into the attack and immediately removed Mathews who was on 95 seemed to want to reach his century with one stroke and played over a delivery which clean bowled him. The young all-rounder once again missed out on his maiden test century.
Fittingly, the last wicket was captured by Nathan Lyon, who went wicket-less in the morning but returned to remove Suranga Lakmal who was caught at long on by Mitchell Johnson for 5 as Sri Lanka finally succumbed to 253 all out.
Australia’s skipper Clarke thus began his test captaincy with one of the best wins possible – beating a strong Sri Lanka side at Galle – and marking Australia’s first win in the sub continent since they beat Bangladesh way back in 2006.
The win also marked former skipper Ricky Ponting’s 100th test win – the only player to reach the landmark – his closest rivals being former team mates Sharne Warne (92) and Steve Waugh (86) who have both retired from the game.
Ironically Ponting too began his captaincy career with a convincing win over Sri Lanka also at Galle in 2004. In that game, Australia fought back after conceding a first innings lead of 161 to amass 512 in their second innings thanks to centuries from Matthew Hayden, Damien Martyn and Darren Lehman. Warne and Stuart McGill then ran through the Sri Lankans in the final innings grabbing nine wickets on a spinning track to give Australia a 197-run win.
The two teams will now move to Kandy for the second test which will be played at the new Pallekelle Stadium starting on September 8. Sri Lanka need to lift their overall game and aim to win, as with a 1-0 lead Australia needs to only draw the next two games to take the series and move ahead of Sri Lanka in the test rankings.
Sri Lanka is presently ranked fourth – one place ahead of Australia.