A recap on the recently concluded Pakistan Test tour of Sri Lanka.
By Nuwangi Gunawardena
Sri Lanka and Pakistan went to head to head in the recently concluded two match Test series at the Galle international stadium from the 16th to the 27th July. Both teams were coming off of recent series against Australia, with Sri Lanka gaining a resounding victory over them in the final Test to level the two match series (1-1), while Pakistan fell short in a high scoring three match home series a while back (March 2022). With both Sri Lanka and Pakistan evenly poised at No.3 and 4 respectively in the ICC Test rankings, this series was crucial for both teams.
The First Test – Pakistan Makes History
The first Test got away under clear skies with Sri Lanka winning the toss. With the Galle pitch known to be notoriously difficult to bat on during the fourth innings, Sri Lanka opted to take first lease of the wicket, hoping to establish a healthy lead in the first innings. Pakistan’s bowlers however had different plans, and an excellent bowling performance led by Shaheen Shah Afridi (4 for 58) saw the hosts all out for just 222 runs. Dinesh Chandimal for the most part played the role of a lonely warrior for Sri Lanka continuing his run of form from the Australia series to contribute a stylish 76 runs. He was aided by useful cameos from Oshada Fernando (35), Kusal Mendis (21) and tail-ender Maheesh Theekshana (38), which helped push Sri Lanka past the 200-run mark.
Despite a clinical performance by their bowlers, Pakistan didn’t fare too well in reply, ending their innings with just 218 runs, with captain Babar Azam contributing 119 runs of the total. Prabath Jayasuriya proved to be Pakistan’s main nemesis, the bowler continuing his brilliant form with the ball by taking his third consecutive five wicket haul. Pakistan’s innings seemed to be at an end first at 85-7 and then at 148-9 before a gutsy late resistance by the skipper, along with tail-ender Naseem Shah which pulled the visitors to within four runs of Sri Lanka’s first innings total.
The second innings saw an improvement in Sri Lanka’s batting with both Oshada Fernando and Kusal Mendis contributing half centuries (64 and 76 respectively) and veteran Dinesh Chandimal playing yet another scintillating knock of an unbeaten 94. This time around it was Mohammed Nawaz who was the pick of the Pakistani bowlers, with a five wicket haul. Naseem Shah picked up the final wicket of Prabath Jayasuriya, to bundle out Sri Lanka out for 337 while also leaving Chandimal stranded in the 90, just a few runs short of his century.
The target set was 342 to win, on a fourth inning at Galle seemed daunting more than it is a record. However chasing 342 in the final innings, Pakistan never looked to be in any sort of real danger with the opening pair of Imam ul-Haq and Abdullah Shafique building a steady partnership of 87 runs, followed a while later by a 101 run partnership between Shafique and Babar Azam, with the skipper contributing 55 runs. It would be Man-of-the-Match Shafique however who would be Pakistan’s hero, playing an unbeaten knock of 160 off 408. His patient inning was not without the touch of luck though, having been given a second lease at the crease when he was dropped on 151 by Kasun Rajitha. Of the Sri Lankan bowlers, it was once again Prabath Jayasuriya who stood in Pakistan’s way with a four wicket haul. He ended his second Test match with an excellent haul of nine wickets.
An unexpected shower turned out to be a final obstacle for Pakistan, with the covers coming on with just 11 runs needed (Pakistan 331-6). The rain was short-lived, however, and after a 90-minute delay, play resumed. This time Pakistan were not to be denied, with Abdullah Shafique fittingly hitting the winning runs and concluding the visitor’s second highest test run chase while also making history with a record run chase at the Galle International Stadium.
Meanwhile, in the realm of the World Test Championship Rankings, Pakistan rose to No.3, while Sri Lanka slipped past India and West Indies, falling to No.6.
The Second Test – Spinners Reign Supreme
Going into the second Test, both teams made a few changes to their teams. Pakistan brought in Fawad Alam for Azhar Ali while Nauman Ali replaced an injured Shaheen Shah Afridi. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka replaced Kasun Rajitha and an injured Maheesh Theekshana with Asitha Fernando and debutant Dunith Wellalage. Wellalage was handed his Test cap by Angelo Matthews, who would be playing his 100th Test match. Interestingly, Matthews also made his Test debut against Pakistan at the Galle International Stadium.
Sri Lanka won the toss and yet again chose to bat first, this time with far more success with Dinesh Chandimal top-scoring again with 80 runs, while Niroshan Dickwella (51) and Oshada Fernando (50) all contributed half-centuries to carry Sri Lanka to an innings total of 378.
Pakistan managed just 231 in reply, with spinners Ramesh Mendis and Prabath Jayasuriya tearing through the visitor’s batting line-up. Mendis bowled an excellent spell to end with 5 for 47, while Jayasuriya continued to prove his mettle with a useful three wicket haul.
Taking lease of the wicket for the second time, Sri Lanka got off to a rocky start, with the hosts losing wickets at regular intervals to end up at 117 for 5. A Man-of-the-Match performance by Dhananjaya de Silva of 109 off 171, aided by skipper Dimuth Karunaratne who battled through a back injury to contribute a gritty 61 runs, steadied the ship for Sri Lanka. They later declared on 360, just after lunch on 4th Day as Sri Lanka did not want to take any risk in giving anything less than 400 to chase with almost one and half days to spare. The final target was 508 runs for Pakistan to chase, to win the series.
Having batted outstandingly in the fourth innings of the previous Test, Pakistan headed into the final innings on a high note. They batted well, supported by weather God, and ended the penultimate day at 89-1 with the hope of pushing for a draw as the day ended early. However, a brilliant bowling performance by spinners Ramesh Mendis (4 for 101) and Prabath Jayasuriya (5 for 117) dashed any hopes of forcing a draw for the visiting side. Skipper Babar Azam was a lone warrior for Pakistan, top-scoring with 81 runs before falling to an lbw by Jayasuriya on the 5th day morning.
Following his wicket, it wasn’t long before Pakistan’s tail-enders succumbed to the Sri Lankan spinners, handing Sri Lanka a 246-run win to level the series.
Ramesh Mendis and Prabath Jayasuriya ended an outstanding bowling performance with a nine-wicket and eight-wicket haul respectively. Jayasuriya’s fourth five-for in six innings also secured him a spot in the record books, as the spinner equalled Australian Charlie Turner for the second most number of wickets (29) after three Tests. He also became one of the only seven players in history with a five-for in each of their first three Tests, and the first Sri Lankan to do so. His performance with the ball earned him a well-deserved Player-of-the-Series award.
Sri Lanka’s victory also resulted in the 19th consecutive result without a draw at the Galle International Stadium, the third highest in history, with only two venues bettering this record.
With the series concluded, the hosts moved back to No.3 in the ICC WTC rankings, while Pakistan has now dropped to No.5. While 2-0 victory for either side would have given them a better shot at the World Test Championship finals, neither of them are out of the chase just yet. Sri Lanka will now move into 50 over and T20 Cricket as a series of tournaments lined up including T20 CWC in Australia, and their next scheduled Test assignment will be in March’2023. It’s a long wait, and many things could take shape apart from the country’s crisis for good or for worst but Sri Lankans will hope that their spin brigade and the batters will manage to keep their form intact when they set sail to the land of long white clouds in 2023!