Herath spins Sri Lanka to unlikely triumph

Sri Lanka claimed an unlikely 21-run victory as they managed to defend the meagre target of 136 runs against Pakistan in the first Test in Abu Dhabi on Monday.

As is so often the case with Test match cricket, a match which looked almost certain to play out to a turgid draw was suddenly set alight on the final day when wickets fell like nine-pins amidst a tense day of high drama in front of an empty stadium in the UAE.

It took almost four days for the first 20 wickets of the match to fall and then only a little over a day for the next 20 dismissals as Pakistan crumbled to quality spin an hour or so into the final sessions of the match.

Dinesh Chandimal, who earlier in the Test batted for nine hours for his 155 not out, had won his first ever toss as Test skipper and had chosen to bat first and they did not miss the opportunity to cash in on the good surface.

Their vast score of 419 was then matched by Pakistan’s 422. A battle of attrition in extreme temperatures was not easy.

With only four sessions left in the match it was never going to be simple to force a result but Test cricket is a funny game and Sri Lanka would be bowled out for 138 before running through Pakistan.

Sri Lanka started the day on 69 for four and were unable to bat past lunch as they capitulated to a combination of increased spin and reverse swing to be 138 all out.

136 in 68 overs did not seem a daunting prospect for Pakistan but on a surface that was veering towards unplayable, a skilled Sri Lankan attack reduced the hosts to 36 for five.

Suddenly it was the visitors’ match to lose and despite a threatening partnership of 42 between Harris Sohail (34) and Sarfraz Ahmed (19), the pressure told on the inexperienced Pakistani batting line-up.

Rangana Herath (6-43), who is nearly 40 years old, was the destroyer in chief as he became the fourth fastest bowler to 400 Test wickets and claimed match figures of 11 for 136.

It was his ninth ten-wicket haul.

The loss was Pakistan’s first in Abu Dhabi and if they do not manage to win the second and last Test, a day-night affair in Dubai starting this Saturday, then they will face their first home series loss in ten years.

After the match, coach Mickey Arthur said, “The expectation is that you must win Test matches and that didn’t happen today.

“One can’t blame the loss of so many wickets in a session on the fact that the players are young, as this is international cricket, but it is a worrying trend that this has happened a few times recently.

“I would have liked to see us attack Herath earlier on. If you allow him to settle on a day 5 wicket, then you are going to be in trouble.

“The toss was quite crucial because they got a good start and we had to claw back hard to get slender lead and then the wicket really broke up at the back end. We needed someone in the top four to get a good score and that just didn’t happen.”

Dinesh Chandimal said, “We are over the moon. The guys did their hard work and it finally paid off. We were actually below par in our performance as a team but we won.”

By Nicholas Sadleir