September 2, 2001

Sri Lanka seal silent victory in Colombo

It turned out to be a silent and tranquil death, as Sri Lanka completed formalities in front of a reticent "poya" day crowd to crush India by an innings to finally end a sixteen-month spell without a Test series victory at the Sinhalese Sports Club on Sunday

India were unable to reverse a slide that had started last evening with the run out of Rahul Dravid and they lost their remaining four wickets within the first session to be bowled out for 299, still 77 runs short of making the home team bat again.

The smattering of spectators present appeared heavy-eyed at the start and although they did break out into occasional bouts of rhythmical hand clapping, victory was greeted with more relief than elation. The only pitch invasion was by the police, who gathered round to watch the presentations.

Sri Lankan fans should, however, have been shouting from the rooftops because this was an important victory for a team that was struggling in Test cricket and becoming increasingly frustrated.

The statistics tell part of the story, for this was Sri Lanka's first Test series victory against India for 16 years and it equals their largest ever victory against any side in Sri Lanka's 20-year Test history. More importantly, though, it ends a disappointing Test run (first home series win for two years) that was placing captain, coach and members of the team under growing pressure and draining them of self-belief.

"We needed to start winning Test series and this victory will give the team a lot of confidence," said a smiling Sanath Jayasuriya before he gathered the team together for a post-match prayer. "We have not won a series since we beat Pakistan last year and this was a crucial win."

"We have been let down by the batsmen in the past few series, but they came back well in this game to score 600 runs," he said. "We had a meeting with all the batsmen after the Kandy Test where I told them to play their natural game, but to make sure they get the big scores once they are well set."

Aravinda de Silva described Ganguly's side as the "weakest Indian team to play on our soil" in a Sunday newspaper interview and it is true that the tourists have been severely handicapped by injuries, but Sri Lanka can only beat the opposition in front of them and they did that convincingly in the end, with two thumping victories in Galle and Colombo.

India, meanwhile, are forced to reflect on a dissapointing series. Having leveled the series in Kandy they had a good chance of recording their first overseas series win for eight years. They blundered that chance, however, when the middle order capitulated to Muralitharan on the first day here.

Certainly, they should never have lost the game on such a tame pitch, devoid of movement, pace and bounce. Coach John Wright admitted as much afterwards: "It is hugely disappointing to lose on this strip, where we would have at least expected to draw."

Despite Jayasuriya's claims that "we always knew they would panic" India could well have batted out the two full days for a draw, before they threw away that opportunity with two senseless run outs on Saturday evening.

In the morning, Jayasuriya opted to open with his trustworthy combination of Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan, who have carried the bowling attack for so long but can look forward to more support in the future. Vaas needed just 15 minutes to dismiss India's last remaining top order batsmen, as he slide a full-length delivery through Hemang Badani's defenses to trap the left-hander leg-before wicket for 11.

India's poor running between the wickets had already cost them dear in this game, but they gifted one further wicket, the third run out of the innings, when non-striker Harbhajan Singh refused to accept Sameer Dighe's request for a run and another accurate Atapattu throw left the wicket-keeping batsmen stranded halfway down the wicket.

Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan then decided to have some fun before the now inevitable defeat. They added 48 runs in entertaining 27 minutes before Harbhajan was caught at long leg for 17.

Khan kept flaying away. He hit Muralitharan for two huge sixes over long on and had raced to 45 off 40 balls, which showed just how good the pitch was, before he holed out on the long on boundary to give Muttiah Muralitharan his 11th wicket of the game and Sri Lanka victory.

Muralitharan was unsurprisingly named man of the match and man of the series for his 23 wickets. His captain paid tribute to him afterwards: "Murali changed everything for us on the first day and was the key to our victory."

Wright also acknowledged Muralitharan: "There were some soft dismissals in the first innings, though, to be fair, it is big challenge playing Muralitharan. He is without peer at the moment and is a tremendous bowler."

"In general, however, they didn't have better cricketers than us, but their bowling was probably more balanced and was able to put more pressure on us than we were able to put on them," he said. "They also sustained their intensity for longer periods of time."

"The boys have shown character on this tour, but if we are going to win consistently we have got to understand that we have to be rock-solid in certain fundamentals, such fitness, running between wickets and fielders," he warned.