Australian captain Michael Clarke won the first Test of his reign with a commanding 125-run victory over Sri Lanka in Galle on Saturday.
Despite a brilliant century from Sri Lanka star batsman Mahela Jayawardene that delayed the inevitable, Australia were able to claim the five wickets necessary for victory on day four to take a 1-0 lead in the three-match series.
And for Clarke, captaining the team for just the second time at Test level, there was understandable delight at securing Australia’s first Test win on the sub-continent since 2006 in Bangladesh.
“I’m just really stoked with the way we went about our work over the four days,” Clarke said, before claiming the dry, dusty track prepared for the home team had “backfired” on the hosts.
“We played really well on a pretty tough wicket … that’s one of the toughest wickets I’ve had to bat on in a Test match.
“Day one felt like day five. To scratch out 270-odd in the first innings, those were crucial runs. We probably thought that was a pretty good score – just above par.
“You always want more but we were pretty happy with that and then to bowl the way we did in the first innings obviously set the game up.”
Chasing an improbable 379 to win the match, Sri Lanka started day four on 5-120 and only three and a half overs could be bowled before a heavy shower caused a delay for about an hour.
Then Jayawardene (105) and Angelo Mathews (95) combined in a 142-run stand for the sixth-wicket that extended past the lunch break.
But when Ryan Harris (5-62) crashed through Jayawardene’s defences with the second new ball, the victory march resumed.
Mitchell Johnson (2-56) bounced out Suraj Randiv (0), who became the fourth Sri Lankan dismissed for a duck in the innings, before Harris returned and claimed his five-wicket haul by removing Rangana Herath (12) after a brief cameo.
From that point, it was just a matter of time as Shane Watson (2-19) dismissed Mathews just five runs short of a deserved maiden Test hundred before debutant off-spinner Nathan Lyon (1-73) took his sixth wicket of the match when Suranga Lakmal (5) skied a catch to Mitchell Johnson to end the game.
“Very special, to be honest,” Clarke said before reserving praise for veteran batsman Michael Hussey, who was named player of the match for his 95 on day one when Australia made 273.
“Full credit to Huss, I think his 90 is probably worth 150 on that wicket and put us in a great position to win the Test. I’m thrilled.”
For Sri Lanka skipper Tillakaratne Dilshan, it’s nine Tests without a win for the island nation, corresponding with Muttiah Muralitharan’s retirement.
But Dilshan believed it was his team’s miserable 105 with the bat in the first innings that had been the main reason behind their defeat.
“We make 200, it’s a different story,” Dilshan said.
“We lost by 125 runs. We can expect to get out for 100 runs in the first innings, I think we lost this match from there.”
Australia’s celebrations were tempered somewhat after the game with the news Ricky Ponting will miss the second Test starting in Kandy on Thursday as he rushes home to be with his wife Rianna for the arrival of their second child.
The experienced batsman will aim to be back in Sri Lanka for the third Test in Colombo.