Rain a no-show as Sri Lanka level series

Daily Mirror — June 29, 2015

Rain proved to be nothing but a tease on the fifth and final day of the second Test as Sri Lanka clinically chased down the 153-run target to beat Pakistan by seven wickets and level the three-match series 1–1, at the P. Saravanamuttu Oval yesterday.

The win ended Sri Lanka’s run of three straight defeats at this venue, their last victory coming in 2009 against the same opposition.

Pakistan were bowled out for 329 before tea on the fourth day on Sunday, but rain washed out the final session meaning Sri Lanka needed to wait till yesterday to begin the chase.

Overnight showers had caused a wet-outfield which delayed the 9:45 a.m. start by half-an-hour, and with play starting under cloud cover there was an element of uncertainty as to how much cricket would be possible on the final day with showers always seeming a possibility. But there was no rain interruption, the skies merely oscillated between bright sun and dark clouds, with the former in abundance when Lahiru Thrimanne scored the winning runs in the 27th over.

With time being of the essence when play started, the hosts were compelled to promote Kithuruwan Vithanage to open the batting, with a license to attack. And attack he did, scoring 34 runs in 23 balls, with four boundaries and two sixes, which set the tone of the chase for the hosts. The two sixes came back-to-back early in the seventh over bowled by spinner Zulfiqar Babar, but Vithanage failed to connect on a third attempt on the last ball of the over, and was caught on the mid-wicket boundary by Mohammed Hafeez. By then Vithanage along with Dimuth Karunaratne had given Sri Lanka a heady start, the pair scoring 49 runs in 42 balls.

That brought star batsman Kumar Sangakkara to the crease, for what might have been his final international innings in Colombo, if Sri Lanka Cricket decides to move the second Test against India in August — his final Test — to Kandy to felicitate him on his Test retirement, similar to what they did for Mahela Jayawardene. But there was no ‘Sanga-special’, when on the first ball faced, from leg-spinner Yasir Shah, he lazily lunged forward ricocheting the ball off his glove onto his pad, lobbing it to Azhar Ali at short-leg for his sixth career golden duck.

The third-wicket partnership between Karunaratne and captain Angelo Mathews then wiped out a large chunk of the target, putting on 72 runs at almost a-run-a-ball. Karunaratne reached his sixth half-century in the 20th over with a single, a just reward for his positive batting that ensured that the hosts didn’t make a mess of a small chase. Karunaratne scored four boundaries, the best of those on the ball before he reached his half-ton, when he swiveled and pulled Junaid Khan to the deep point boundary perfectly finding the gap between the two out-fielders.

But with victory just around the corner, Karunaratne was deceived in the following over by the length of a Shah delivery, completely misreading the bounce, with the ball hitting his inner thigh right in front of the stumps. He asked for a review, but unless for an inside edge there was no escape for him and replays showed that there was no bat involved.

That left Sri Lanka — 121 at that stage — needing just 32 to win, and vice-captain Lahiru Thirimanne came in and completed the job in the 27th over, scoring 20 off 21 balls, getting the honour of making the final play of the game with the winning runs, before the lunch break. Mathews was also unbeaten on 43.

Dhammika Prasad whose seven wickets in the match played a key role in Sri Lanka’s win, to go with the 35 he made in their first innings, was adjudged Man of the Match.

Originally published at www.wisdenindia.com on June 29, 2015.

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