Yasir Shah is on the strike. He is surrounded by eager Sri Lankans, who are a wicket away from one of their greatest victories in Test cricket. With more than 20 overs to go, Pakistan, who have dominated the visitors throughout the match, need just 25 runs to seal the Abu Dhabi Test and take a 1-0 lead in the two-Test series. Subsequent to the three dot balls from Dilruwan Perera, the fourth one received an inside edge and is caught by a diving short leg. Within seconds, the celebration erupted in a near-empty Sheikh Zayed Stadium. Sri Lankan wicketkeeper ripped the stumps out, the players began to jump and hug each other, while there were massive celebrations in the dressing room as well.
The joy immediately vanished seeing the umpire raise his hand for a no-ball. There are very few instances when off-spinners cross the line while bowling and one of such unfortunate moments happened during the closing stages of the Test, only to put nails of thousands of viewers across the globe. Suddenly, a one-sided Test, that saw 11 dull sessions, had turned into one of the greatest matches in the history of cricket. For neutral viewers (non-Pakistan or Sri Lanka) taking the side of one team was next to impossible.
The very next ball was smashed by Yasir to the covers and earned two crucial runs.
Pakistan needed 23 runs with a wicket in hand.
Their dressing room erupted in cheers showing how significant were those two runs.
Pakistan were in this situation despite the fact that they were chasing a mere target of 138 runs. The pressure was built up since it was the final day and a result was possible in the match. There was one man who was the reason for the major damage done to the semi-hosts. Sri Lankan skipper Dinesh Chandimal, once again looked at Sri Lanka’s most experienced bowler at present, Rangana Herath, who already had 10 wickets to his name in the Test.
Mohammad Abbas, who was just four-ball old in the innings, was well aware of the mountain of a task ahead of him – he had to successfully survive Herath. He did manage to do that for three balls. Three dot balls and the pressure immediately doubled on the new batsman. In order to reduce the tension, he tried to cut the fourth delivery of that over but missed it by far. The umpire, directly. raised the finger for LBW. Sri Lanka reviewed. But there was no chance of any contact with the bat as the replays showed the ball crashed into the off stump.
— Russel Arnold (@RusselArnold69) October 2, 2017
In the last few months, Sri Lankans were grilled by a relatively weaker Bangladesh, they were crushed by the South Africans, a bottom-ranked Zimbabwe forced them to doubt themselves as a team and the No. 1 India shattered any left confidence. Sri Lanka, by a whisker, escaped being relegated into the club of the teams who have to play the qualifiers to enter the ICC Cricket World Cup. Already messed up due to politics in the management, Sri Lanka have experienced the downs more than the ups in some time now and this victory in Abu Dhabi has come at the very right time. It is fair to say, the unbelievable victory by 21 runs has given a new life to Sri Lankan cricket.
When Sri Lanka put up a total of 419 runs in the first innings, they were applauded for their best total in six Tests. They have been infamous for not capitalising on good starts, off late, and that exactly happened when Pakistan fought back to pile up three more than the Sri Lankans in their first innings. Then it was Yasir Shah’s turn to grab some limelight. His 5 for 51 swung the match in the favour of Pakistan as they needed only 138 runs with enough time left on the final day. They would have recalled their last encounter. The last time these two nations locked horns, Sri Lanka had managed to lose the Test inspite of setting a mammoth target of 377 runs. Hence, a chase of 138 looked like a cakewalk for an in-form Pakistan, who had batsmen such as Sarfraz Ahmed, Azhar Ali and Babar Azam among the many others who could contribute crucial runs.
— Sri Lanka Cricket (@OfficialSLC) October 2, 2017
However, this time the story was to be different. Herath along with the likes of Perera and Lakmal ensured Pakistan retained their infamous image – losing matches from winning positions. Not just the bowlers but the batsmen too stepped up for Sri Lanka. Dinesh Chandimal, Niroshan Dickwella, Perera and Dimuth Karunaratne, had all played their roles as well. It would be unfair if the efforts from the batsmen are ignored. The first innings total was the moment that put Sri Lanka en route this beautiful win.
It was necessary for them to produce this brand of cricket before it was too late. The Sri Lankans desperately needed the public to restore faith in them; they had to win back their followers and more importantly, revive Sri Lankan cricket. This seemed like a new bunch with the same faces but a different attitude. A good run of a team is never permanent but this attitude will remains with them always. It is this new perspective of the Sri Lankans that will guide them forward from here on.