The last time Sri Lanka scored a 400+ total was during the first Test of the two-Test series against Bangladesh in May, which they eventually won by 259 runs. In the next five Tests, an entire Sri Lankan team together had failed to reach the 400-mark before they flew down to Abu Dhabi to play the opening Test of the two-Test series against Pakistan. Once again, they tasted success but what made the win even more special was the fact that Sri Lanka became the first-ever team to defeat Pakistan in a Test in Abu Dhabi. The sudden positive vibes mended the low confidence in the Sri Lankan camp and motivated them to repeat the excellent batting performance.
A more confident captain, Dinesh Chandimal, won the toss in the second Test and put his side to bat first. The likes of Dimuth Karunaratne, Chandimal, Dilruwan Perera and Niroshan Dickwella brought the majority of the runs in the first Test and were expected to exhibit the same show with the bat. To a great delight to the touring camp, every single one of those players performed did justice to his particular role. The opening batsman Karunaratne along with Kaushal Silva put Sri Lanka on the right track from the very beginning; although the latter fell early for a score of mere 27 runs.
Sri Lanka have finally found an opener, after a very very long time, who could be relied on the basis of his consistency, he has been showing off-late. The almost two days he batted, he showed no signals of being in any hurry; he clearly enjoyed batting. picked most of his runs from his favourite leg side, defused any venomous attack from Pakistan’s lead bowler Yasir Shah and others too but unfortunately was dismissed when he was four runs short from a maiden Test double. Had he achieved the milestone, he would have become the first opener since Jayasuriya to score a Test double hundred. These numbers show how badly Sri Lanka have been wanting an opener of this quality to revive their stay in Test cricket.
Chandimal was made the Test skipper in troublesome circumstances when Angelo Matthews resigned from the role, across formats, in between the home series against Zimbabwe. The underway Test is his fifth Test as Sri Lanka’s captain and so far the responsibility has not hampered his role as a batsman in the team. He is surely far off from being considered one of the best batsmen of this era. The big four, he is always compared to – Kohli, Smith, Root and Williamson – also happen to the captains of their sides. However, the pressure to be at par with these guys has not affected Chandimal in any manner.
Moreover, the captain’s role has made Chandimal more alert and more of a careful batsman which in turn has been doing good for the side. In the first Test, he entered the field when Sri Lanka were uncertain at 61 for 3. The 372-ball 155 he scored in the first Test in ABu Dhabi was a captain’s knock in the true sense. He proved that the knock was no fluke when he once again shared a crucial partnership with the same Karunaratne in the second Test to put Sri Lanka ahead in the match. Chandimal has stuck to his usual approach of frustrating the bowlers with his gritty defence and score a surprise boundary off a loose delivery. He has not put a foot wrong; being a captain, he surely avoided shots which he otherwise would go for.
Sri Lanka have found a warrior for the middle-order in the young Niroshan Dickwella. Although he has not managed to convert a big start into a hundred, he has been contributing down the order in crucial conditions to keep the line-up stuck like a tape. In the last six innings, he has three fifties and a couple of 40s, all coming during tough times. The 24-year-old has been managing to be at par with these senior men and if groomed well, he possesses the capability to go far in the future.
The all-rounder, Dilruwan Perera, luckily has found his form back in the series. The 22-Test old player made his Test debut in the UAE against Pakistan in Sharjah where he had scored an unbeaten 93. So, it goes without saying that he does not face many difficulties in these tricky conditions like his other teammates. In the first innings in Dubai, he added vital 58 runs lower in the batting order to help Sri Lanka cross 450.
When the batsmen have done their job, a total of 482 certainly reduces pressure off their bowlers. The more the score, the more pressure on the opposition rather than bowlers. In the last couple of hours when Pakistan came out to bat, there is no doubt that their openers did a great job; Sami Aslam and Shan Masood moved the team to 42 for no loss at the stumps of Day two. However, the two could not carry the same momentum into the third day. In back to back overs, Lahiru Gamage and Perera struck and removed Masood and Aslam respectively.
When the first drinks break was taken on Day three, Pakistan had two new batsmen in the middle with a huge task ahead of them as they still trailed by 398 runs. Had a person watched Sri Lankan cricket after a long time, he would not have guessed that this is the same team that had touched rock bottom in the last few months. Finally, a collective effort from the batsmen have straight away put them on the drivers’ seat. Not to forget, Pakistan have an excellent record in the UAE. If Rangana Herath is supported by his other bowlers and they replicate their performance from Abu Dhabi, Pakistan might find themselves in serious distress.