Sri Lanka's skill demands they do better
As Sri Lanka's Nos. 10 and 11 trudged off the Bellerive square just after 6pm, their expressions conveyed no pleasure at having held off the juggernaut until the final hour, only disappointment. There will be temptation to cast Sri Lanka's loss as a moral victory - the runt that had more scrap than expected, but that was always going to be too weak to roll with the big dog - but Sri Lanka owe themselves a more honest evaluation than that. They were outplayed consistently across all disciplines in this Test, and their talent demands better than their showing in Hobart.
From a purely statistical perspective Sri Lanka may have edged out sessions on day four and five but, in truth, their only really dominant period in the match was the morning of day three, in which Tillakaratne Dilshan and Angelo Mathews made rapid runs and suffered no setbacks. There was much to admire about Sri Lanka's grit on the final day, and the welts they will wear as they recover from the match will remind them that they were at least in a fight on a fiendish, fissured pitch. Mahela Jayawardene even described each chunk of clay amid the cracks as "plates" - and it was not hard to imagine the surface as a tectonic map. But Sri Lanka should never have fallen so far as to be clawing at their opponents so desperately on the fifth day.
Before the Test Jayawardene had called on his experienced batsmen to rally, and though they were given a golden chance to conceal a blemished bowling performance through an adventurous declaration from Michael Clarke, they spurned that opportunity by clattering to 87 for 4. Dimuth Karunaratne, playing his second Test, and having received a fine ball from Ben Hilfenhaus, might be forgiven. But the other three who fell on the second evening cannot allow themselves so generous an assessment.
Kumar Sangakkara is contending for greatness, not only in Sri Lanka's pantheon - where he is deservedly hailed by some as the country's best-ever batsman - but on a global scale as well. Notoriously hard-working, the many hours he would have spent in preparation for this Test were not done justice in his second innings fifty when hopes of victory seemed remote. Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera also showed some ticker in the fourth innings, but Sri Lanka had the best of the batting conditions on days two and three, and yet did not convert that advantage into a more competitive total.
"We were a little loose with the bat in the first innings and we need to tighten things up a bit more," Jayawardene said after the match. "In the first innings we need to consolidate a bit better. When you put runs on the board in the first innings of the Test, that's where you take control of a match."
Sri Lanka's fielding was also lacklustre during the Test. For years they have prided themselves on being the best fielding side in the subcontinent, but the dropped catches and misfields served mostly to further deflate a faltering bowling effort in the first innings. If they are to take 20 wickets in either of the remaining Tests, Sri Lanka's energy in the field must make up for what they lack with the ball.
There are signs the bowlers can learn to be effective however and perhaps, even more than Dilshan's hundred, that is the most reassuring thought with which they leave Hobart. Rangana Herath's five-wicket haul will give Sri Lanka hope that they can at least hope for penetration in the second innings and on a better pitch for spin, maybe even in the first. Chanaka Welegedara's improved performance in the second innings also suggests that his long road back from injury is coming to an end, and he may once again be ready to don the pace spearhead's mantle that he carried creditably in 2011.
"There were glimpses of Chanaka's form coming back," Jayawardene said. "After eight months away, he showed a lot of improvement.
"We can take positives out of the way Dilshan batted. It was a very controlled innings the way he dominated the attack. Angelo batted really well in a tough situation as well when we were four down. Even in the second innings, even though we knew the pitch was going to be tough, everyone buckled down and batted really well. We were getting a few blows on the body, but everyone stuck to their task. Very proud of the way the boys fought."
These are consolations; perhaps, considering the supposed chasm in quality between the teams, Sri Lanka deserve to linger on happy notes as well. They may be facing a series deficit, but at least Sri Lanka have escaped the least likely venue of the tour to have suited their strengths with a bruised but unbroken spirit.
They cannot, however, allow such small successes to overshadow the opportunities missed. There are plenty in the visiting side who know they did not realise their potential in Hobart, and they will hope to turn disappointment into desperation in the matches to come.
Andrew Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent