Sri Lanka enjoyed out there. Sri Lanka were not afraid. The Islanders did not melt under pressure……
Pressure! Life is all about handling the pressure well. And in cricket or any other sports, handling the pressure in the best possible way determines who is the best team and player in the world. Some teams learn to handle the pressure via a specific system, while some inherit it genetically. And some teams like Bangladesh learn to handle it by getting mauled.
The journey of a cricket team is never so easy. A purple-patch can transform into an ugly lean-patch in no time and the dark clouds overhead just don’t wish to clear soon, but time and again, continue to gift unhappy moments, which not only dent the confidence of the team, but test the patience of fans as well. Ask a Bangladesh cricket fan of how it felt to digest defeats consistently in last decade; they will share some emotional and pathetic memories.
Congratulations @OfficialSLC for achieving what no other Sri Lankan team has ever come close to. Huge character shown by all concerned with The team, coaching staff and management having been under tremendous pressure. A team effort for the ages. Keep believing and keep fighting
— Kumar Sangakkara (@KumarSanga2) February 23, 2019
But such defeats also helped Bangladesh to develop a certain nothing-to-lose-mentality and fearlessness at the back of their mind, which helped them to play in a bolder and determined manner. Ultimately, it paid rich dividends as for the last four years; Bangladesh’s success has been eye-catching.
Chandika Hathursingha, after taking charge of Tigers as head coach in 2014, recognised the development of such a mentality among the Bangladesh boys and immediately he started to nurture it so that Bangladesh can utilise to a great advantage and in Australia and New Zealand, during ICC World Cup 2015, each and everyone witnessed the emergence of a new Bangladesh team, which play boldly and handles the pressure better than past.
That Hathurusingha became the head coach of Sri Lanka last year. And under him, that struggling Sri Lanka of post-Mahela-and-Sanga-era started to turnaround after a horrible one-and-half years, but all of a sudden they lost their way in the middle of 2018. There is nothing to explain about the on-and-off-the-field incidents and there is nothing to explain about how Sri Lanka were getting hammered at home and abroad.
Congratulations !!! Great team work to achieve something special. proud of the boys.. Well done @IamDimuth and the team. 👍👊👊👊
— Mahela Jayawardena (@MahelaJay) February 23, 2019
Even an ardent follower of Sri Lankan cricket gave up hope of a turnaround, while the critics thought, Sri Lanka have joined the list of West Indies, who lost their way in 1995 and until the start of England series at home, were a shadow of glorious past.
But perhaps, during those tough times, Sri Lanka must have developed that Bangladesh-like mentality, as mentioned above, and with Hathurusingha around, perhaps, he nurtured this mentality among the Lankan boys to deliver their best. As Dimuth Karunaratne said, ““When we came here, no one thought we can win a series here. But if we back ourselves, we can win those matches. We wanted to do something good for the team, for the Sri Lankan fans. End of the day, we did a really good job”.
— Russel Arnold (@RusselArnold69) February 23, 2019
So, when the 2-match Test series against South Africa commenced, the world witnessed the end of great run at home for Proteas as the Lankan Lions became the first team from subcontinent to win a Test series in the rainbow nation, a feat, which some of the best teams from subcontinent failed to achieve in past.
Both the teams batted poorly, while both of them bowled brilliantly. But the factor, which determined the winner, was the ability to handle the pressure and Sri Lanka handled it better than the hosts.
The visitors were without some of their major players either due to injuries or suspension, but whenever, Sri Lanka faced the heat, they did not melt, but stepped up to face the challenge both at Durban and Port Elizabeth.
🙌 HISTORIC WIN FOR SRI LANKA 🙌
Unbeaten fifties from Oshada Fernando and Kusal Mendis on the third morning help the visitors register their first ever Test series victory in South Africa.#SAvSL SCORECARD ⏬https://t.co/dkczebcheC pic.twitter.com/NCtu2hr1Z3
— ICC (@ICC) February 23, 2019
If Durban was all about Kusal Perea’s individual brilliance and courage then Port Elizabeth can be labelled as a complete team effort – a bunch of Islanders enjoying themselves out there with no fear and anxiety. They know that they have nothing to lose. They know that they would not lose if they enjoy themselves out there.
As Karunaratne said, “The tour (in New Zealand) started in December, so we are out of the country for three months. If you don’t enjoy and if you can’t free your mind, you can’t give your best,” Karunaratne said. “I know the talent we have, so we wanted to get those out. If you’re enjoying yourself, you can definitely get those out”.
Dhananjaya de Silva took the responsibility of spin department when Lasith Embuldeniya dislocated his left thumb and with Kasun Rajitha and Vishwa Fernando, though looked impressive with the ball, but were not giving any breakthroughs, an ego-free Suranga Lakmal took the matters in hand to end South Africa’s second innings in no time.
Neither Lakmal nor de Silva delivered something extraordinary to dismiss the South Africa batters on Day 2, but kept on pitching the ball further up to the batters on a fourth and fifth stump line, which created pressure and South Africa, succumbed.
In the last five years, which of Sri Lanka's away Test series victories is your favourite?
1) 1-0 win v England in 2014
2) 2-0 win v Pakistan in 2017/18
3) 1-0 win v Bangladesh in 2017/18
4) 2-0 win v South Africa 2018/19 pic.twitter.com/JE7yGFj5N9
— ICC (@ICC) February 23, 2019
Some of the strokes, which South African batters played only indicated, they were afraid to lose and felt the pressure more. It was opposite in case of Sri Lanka, who seemed focused and tough enough and the result was a stunning back-to-back victory in a territory, which is always considered as hostile for subcontinent teams.
On Day 3, Kusal Mendis and Oshada Fernando displayed the ideal sense and sensibility with the bat, which Sri Lanka missed on crunch situations. The South African attack failed to breach their determination.
History was created!
Maybe, this result can be regarded as one of the most unexpected ones in the history of Test cricket and one can end up saying, cricket is a glorious game of uncertainty, but success for any teams doesn’t come so easily. Especially in a five-day match, the team which handles the pressure better laughs the last laugh. In that sense, I am not ready to tag Sri Lanka’s victory as a fluke. Of course, you don’t win back-to-back Test matches just relying on the unexpected-factor.