By Srian Obeyesekere
If wicket-keeper batsman Niroshan Dickwella (81, 118 balls, 6×4) was the defining sword edge to raising victory hopes from a precipitation of 203 for 5 wickets after overnight batsmen Kusal Mendis (66) and Angelo Mathews (25) catapulted, Asela Gunaratne (80, 151 balls 6×4) proved to be the terminator carrying Sri Lanka to the victory post of 389 over Zimbabwe in the solitary Test at the R. Premadasa Stadium yesterday. The marathon face saving triumph, the highest in Sri Lanka beating Pakistan’s 382 against Sri Lanka in 2015, smashed local critics waiting to write off Sri Lanka in what has become a progressive mud slinging campaign of the cricket establishment. Effectively, the 121-run alliance for the sixth wicket between the duo swung the match back Sri Lanka’s way after both Mendis and Mathews had departed in lollypop fashion having resumed on 170 for 3 with the anticipated victory consolidation evaporating.
Mendis, lacking the maturity of realizing the tremendous value input his batting talent would be if only he would dig in swung wildish to be caught deep in the leg, and the experienced Mathews playing forward going through with the stroke and bat lifting up in the last minute for a caught and bowled. After Mendis and Mathews had departed adding just 6 and 8 to their overnight scores, battling the looming peril fell upon the shoulders of Dickwella and Gunaratne in an admirable last ditch battle for survival.Both fronted the 156-run chase before them wisely reading the situation with Dickwella in the lead role having seen the ball better before Gunaratne joined him with the latter playing a solid waiting game of inching the ones and twos. Full credit to the temperamentally punishing Dickwella who played cat and mouse punishing anything loose in a typical blending of the twosome taking Sri Lanka to 324 before edging a ball in an attempted sweep. From there Gunaratne, who was on 38 at the time, took charge in the aplomb of perfect text book batting playing each delivery on its merit in the final victory thrust well aided by a sedate Dilruwan Perera who was on 29 off 76 balls inclusive of 4 boundaries. Perera signaled victory for his side with upraised hand in the same motion of the stroke. Gunaratne carried the ‘Man of the Match’ award with Rangana Herath the ‘Man of the Series’ award for his match bag 11 wickets. The triumph marked a champagne beginning to Dinesh Chandimal’s installment as Sri Lanka’s 15th Test captain.
For Zimbabwe, who tasted an ODI series success, it was a tremendously praiseworthy effort in defeat in setting Sri Lanka the highest run chase on Lankan soil in their thrust for a maiden Test win against the host nation. It left no qualms that Zimbabwe’s cricket at Test level has undergone a vast transformation in mounting 350-plus totals and stretching Sri Lanka down to the wire in a highly absorbing contest.