The Sri Lankans delivered when it mattered the most…….
It is often said, cricket gets more intense and competitive, when the conditions are bowling-friendly, and this game was just a testament to it. Sri Lanka were beaten in the first Test but saved the second. Signs of constant improvement were there, and one couldn’t have afforded to ignore Sri Lanka’s fightback in the second game. Coming to the third game, the onus of making a comeback was on Sri Lanka and all West Indies had to do was avoid a defeat. The Test was supposed to be played under artificial lights, which meant business for the bowlers. In a rain-affected game, Sri Lanka showed nerves of steel and pulled off an improbable win to square the three-match series, which is also a moral win for them.
Records tumbled in the Caribbean as wickets fell like nine pins in both innings. In the end, it was Sri Lanka, who made the cut and won the nail-biting encounter by four wickets. Sri Lanka’s career graph has been on a rise; the side is slowly but constantly developing into a fighting unit and has shown enough promise. Prior to the third Test, Sri Lanka suffered a heavy loss when their skipper Dinesh Chandimal’s appeal against a one-match ban for ball-tampering was dismissed because of which, he had to miss the crucial third Test.
In the absence of Chandimal and Rangana Herath, Sri Lanka’s two most reliable cricketers, Suranga Lakmal was appointed as the stand-in skipper for the final encounter. Lakmal was not having a great run in the series and the burden of captaincy was only going to add to the pressure. The lanky fast bowler soaked in the pressure and led the side by example. West Indies won the toss and elected bat first.
The conditions were conducive for seam bowling and Lakmal exploited the conditions to the fullest, chipping two early wickets. West Indies had a tough time in confronting the pumped Sri Lankan bowlers but somehow managed to cross the 200-run mark, which was always going to be a competitive total on that wicket.
West Indies bowlers fought fire with fire and cleaned up Sri Lanka for 154, further gaining a healthy 50-run lead. Jason Holder was the pick of the West Indies bowlers, bagging four wickets. On a pitch like this, even a fifty-run lead could make a difference and Sri Lanka were going to bat in the fourth innings. Their bowlers had to produce something spectacular to put pressure back on the West Indies. A target of 200 above would have been very, very difficult to be chased.
Lakmal once again led the bowling attack with immense confidence and meant business. He was well supported by other bowlers as West Indies were dismantled for a paltry total of 93. The ball was in Sri Lanka’s court, but a target of 144 was possible to be defended on this wicket. One just couldn’t have written West Indies off, especially after looking at the kind of havoc Sri Lankan bowlers wreaked. In fact, West Indies bowlers did well than Sri Lankan bowlers in the first innings, and with the pitch becoming a minefield for the batsmen the game was evenly poised.
Holder once again hogged all the headlines for his effective bowling as Sri Lanka were reduced to 81 for 6. The target was still miles away and not enough batting to come for Sri Lanka. West Indies bowlers were tightening the noose around them and a valiant performance from someone was the need of the hour.
Dilruwan Perera and Kusal Perera accounted for a match-winning 63-runs partnership between them to harbour Sri Lanka to safety. The duo showed some astute batsmanship and confronted the dominating West Indies attack with utmost care. Kusal remained unbeaten on 28 while Dilruwan had 23 not out to his name, the numbers might look very small, but in the context of the game, it was massive.
The Sri Lankan side is rebuilding and a win like this under the pump will only inject momentum in this potent side. In conditions, where batsmen were looking like sitting ducks, Sri Lankan batsmen managed to hold their nerves and garner the needed runs in the fourth innings. The series has ended in a draw, but it’s a moral win for Sri Lanka, which came at a crucial time. Sri Lanka have now won two of their last four test series and drew one. The signs are good, they were outstanding against Pakistan in the UAE and fared decently against India after which, defeated Bangladesh. And in this series, they returned from the dead to square it.