Thank God, the drama ended. A sigh of relief for the Sri Lankans, who a few weeks back flew down to the UAE as underdogs to play a two-Test series against Pakistan. Meanwhile, Pakistan have lots of thinking to be done to look for remedies for the damage-repair at the end of their first-ever whitewash in their adopted home venue. The win in the Abu Dhabi Test was a morale booster for the touring party. By winning the second Test in Dubai and completing a historic clean sweep against Pakistan in the UAE, Sri Lankans have given out the message, loud and clear, about their return to the competitive world of Test cricket.
A team can never lose when the players display a collective effort and that’s exactly what Sri Lanka did in the two-Test series, especially in Dubai. Sri Lanka found many heroes in course in the Test such as Dimuth Karunaratne, Dinesh Chandimal, Niroshan Dickwella, debutants Sadeera and Lahiru Gamage, Rangana Herath but there was one player who chipped in with his all-round skills and against everyone’s expectations, he stepped up for Sri Lanka – Dilruwan Perera – probably the most underrated Test all-rounder at present.
In Sri Lanka’s first innings, when Karunaratne lost the top and middle-order, he found the required support from Perera. The two shared a crucial 59-run stand for the sixth wicket and that helped Sri Lanka towards the end in posting the massive total. In Pakistan’s innings when debutant Gamage drew first blood, that over was followed by another breakthrough, which was made by Perera. He dismissed the other Pakistani opener Sami Aslam, who was looking in a great touch, for 39 off 72 balls. Perera went on to make two more vital breakthroughs with wickets of Haris Sohail and Pakistan’s skipper Sarfraz Ahmed.
Unfortunately, he became Yasir Shah’s victim in the second innings and was dismissed for a three-ball duck. The 35-year-old all-rounder made up for that dismissal in a fantastic way, which Pakistan will never forget.
With almost two days remaining in the Test, Pakistan had to chase down 317 runs. They lost two quick wickets before Shan Masood and Haris Sohil took charge. Just before the penultimate session ended on the fourth day, Perera unleashed himself on the mighty Pakistanis as he claimed three wickets inside 10 runs to leave them at 52 for 5. Every time Pakistan tried to go ahead in the Test, Sri Lanka always found a way to pull them back.
However, subsequent to that ferocious spell from Perera, Sri Lanka only faced frustration because the duo of Sarfraz and Asad Shafiq smartly and steadily tried to take the game away from the tourists. The day ended and Pakistan would resume play on the final day by being 199 runs away from a victory.
Sarfraz and Shafiq commenced their partnership with the same ease, concentration but they did give Sri Lanka a few chances but the latter failed to capitalise on those. Kaushal Silva missed a direct hit, that could have seen Shafiq diving at 95, Dickwella missed a stumping that would see Sarfraz back to the dugout and Karunaratne dropped Shafiq at slip off the bowling of Dilruwan.
While the opponents kept surviving, the Sri Lankans kept coming at them, consistently, with the same determination and an unshaken aim – to win the Test – then finally came the breakthrough moment. Watching Sarfraz’s restless mood, Perera got the ball drifted, with an aim that turned out to be bullseye; Sarfraz once again tried for a flat sweep but he ended up with a thick inside edge that flew towards the long leg. Nuwan Pradeep, caught in that moment, almost messed up with leg movement but eventually completed a successful catch to bring back Sri Lanka right into the game.
Sri Lanka needed only 5.5 overs into the fifth day to break Shafiq-Sarfraz’s partnership that was clearly taking the Test away from them.
In his next over, Perera clinched his fifth wicket when he dismissed Mohammad Amir on the fifth ball of the 80th over. Two balls later, umpire gave Shafiq out off Gamage’s bowling. However, the replays showed the ball was missing the leg stump and the drama was not over yet; the DRS gave Pakistan another life to keep going in the Test.
After Perera’s fifth wicket, which was Sarfraz, in the next 90 minutes and 10 overs, Sri Lanka would go on to rip apart the lower-order of Pakistan and enter history books. While it was just another instance of Pakistan losing a match from a winning position, it meant a lot to Chandimal and his boys.
The fact that Sri Lanka become the first team in 115 years to win a Test after getting bowled out for less than 100 in 3rd innings showed the character and determination the young team has shown during difficult conditions and what kept them apart from Pakistan was the way they absorbed the pressure and conquered the crunch situations.
Angelo Matthews resigned as Sri Lanka’s captain following their loss to Zimbabwe in the limited-overs series. Chandimal was given the Sri Lankan side to handle amidst tough times. He made his Test captaincy debut during the one-off Test against Zimbabwe, which Sri Lanka almost lost. To make it worse, Sri Lanka were hammered by India 3-0 at home. The 2-0 clean sweep in Pakistan’s territory would have restored Chandimal’s belief in the team and he certainly would take up the future assignments with a fresh and more positive mind.
In this series, they have discovered a reliable opener in Karunaratne, an unsung hero in wicketkeeper-batsman Dickwella in the middle-order, a spirited captain in Chandimal and more importantly, any team’s first priority, an all-rounder – Perera revived his game with an exceptional all-round performance throughout the series.