Pakistan v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Dubai, 5th day January 12, 2014

Sri Lanka earn victory by respecting their limitations

In their win against Pakistan, Sri Lanka truly knew the boundaries of their ability and rarely sought to exceed them

"I know that I am intelligent because I know that I know nothing," goes a common misappropriation of a Socratic quote. It was originally intended to reveal something of the nature of knowledge itself, but has lately been used to advance the thought that awareness of personal limitation is wisdom.

The world of sport often charges in the opposite direction to this sentiment. Self-belief is deemed a pre-requisite for any elite sportsman - the ability to achieve in the face of great odds, and to overcome where many have tried and foundered. The idea that nothing is impossible is propagated even beyond athletic pursuit. Such notions may have their uses in cricket, but in Sri Lanka's second away-victory in almost five years, they have truly known the boundaries of their ability, and rarely sought to exceed them.

Asking the opposition to bat first, particularly in Asia, is sometimes construed as weakness. Many perceived greentops often have little in them for fast bowlers beyond the first session, and countless touring captains have unwittingly surrendered prime batting days to the opposition.

Angelo Mathews' preference to field first had of course been vindicated when Pakistan had been dismantled for 165, but not only had it been an unprecedented choice at this venue, Mathews had watched on for hours as Pakistan's experienced batsmen blunted his quick men's movement in Abu Dhabi. Shaminda Eranga and Suranga Lakmal had undoubtedly bowled well in the first Test, but there had been little in their Test history to suggest they were capable of skittling Pakistan as they did, much less that Nuwan Pradeep would be the key man to sparking the opposition's collapse. His team's feeble first-innings returns in the previous game, and the consequent hankering for safety-first were the more likely forces to driving Mathew's decision. Perhaps somewhat to his own surprise, Sri Lanka's own first innings could hardly have begun at a more advantageous time - just as the pitch had begun to slow and flatten.

"Apart from the first day, this was a regular Dubai wicket," Mathews said. "The spinners weren't able to be that successful on this wicket, because it was very helpful for the fast bowlers on the first day. After that it became a bit slow, but still good for the batsmen, as usual."

Sri Lanka's longest innings was more evidence of self-awareness coming good. Mahela Jayawardene sizes up situations better than any Sri Lanka player, and though that usually means he reads conditions well, on this occasion, he also knew the limitations an injury would impose on his own game. The favoured cover-drive and well-loved sweep were largely shelved, and even when Pakistan's bowlers strung together admirable spells, Jayawardene and Kaushal Silva did not venture a counterattack.

Control defined the bowling too, as Pakistan kept Sri Lanka in the field for 137.3 overs in the second innings. No wickets fell for almost two sessions on day three, but on a pitch that did not favour Rangana Herath's spin, Sri Lanka did not devise tricks for Misbah-ul-Haq or Younis Khan, they simply waited. At times it seemed Sri Lanka lacked flair and imagination, persisting with an in-out field that did not challenge batsmen, but as the fast bowlers had already made giant leaps in the series, Mathews may understandably have been wary of asking too much. In the end, the visitors waited Younis and Misbah out - both fell to balls that gleaned unexpected venom from the surface.

"The toss was a bit crucial but I thought you need to bowl in the right areas to get them out," Mathews said. "The bowlers did exactly that. I thought they were brilliant in the first innings as well as the second innings. Given the conditions, they had to put it on the right spot, which they did."

As the threat of rain loomed in their run chase, Sri Lanka veered towards conservatism again, small though their target was. In 16 overs before lunch, only 35 runs had been gathered. Such steady progress might have appeared foolish if the rains had actually come, but instead, Sri Lanka secured the last of their many moral victories in the match - their first century-stand for the first wicket since June 2011.

"We actually thought it might rain as well, but thankfully it didn't rain," Mathews said. "Sarfraz Ahmed was batting well and we wanted to stop him scoring runs, and to bowl to the new batsman. We couldn't let them off the hook by giving them too many runs. We had to be a bit cautious about the runs as well."

Six of Sri Lanka's XI have fewer than 17 Tests' experience, so perhaps Mathews will tread with caution in the near future as well. As Mathews exulted at the close, the inexperienced cricketers had all shown Test-match fortitude. Few would have imagined Sri Lanka could have an unassailable lead in the series without a big haul for Herath or a hundred for Kumar Sangakkara.

In the past, Sri Lanka's most prosperous periods have also featured their most attacking cricket, and while one win is not enough to prove that they are suddenly better suited to the reverse, they have shown that ambition need not breed every success.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Prashan on January 14, 2014, 5:13 GMT

    @S.Jagernath, Nuwan Pradeep is a fellow who did not touch a cricket ball until he was 20. He comes from a village close to the Colombo international airport area. Interesting how will he perform in England. I wont want to ride too much on this performance as Pakistan are known for their batting frailties. We must impress in England this June to get an idea where does our bowling attack stand. Headingley where we will play our 2nd test will help him but English bowlers too can skittle through our batting if Pradeep can impress there. Only Sanga and Chandimal have so far been our good batsmen against pace. Karunaratne is a 50-50. Headingley is the coldest of test venues in England, so conditions will favor pace bowling over there.

  • Shakti on January 13, 2014, 18:52 GMT

    The Sri Lankan deserve a lot of praise for their performance.The wicket was flat & they did a very good job bowling Pakistan out for a decent score.Nuwan Pradeep is very impressive,on a quick wicket,he could be a handful!

  • Pubudu on January 13, 2014, 12:22 GMT

    It's good to c dat SL players r finding some confidence to play under pressure, especially in the first match. Then they stuck into a well plan by utilizing their resources to get a result in the second match. In my point of view, SL team was lack of those things after 96 effort and still more to improve to reach that peak. But this is just one match. As long as they keep this aptitude then they can go for more and more wins. It's sad to c dat people here's just trying to criticize each other on their personal belief. Cricket is just a sport and everybody should be able not to be a convict of their own Captivity of Negativity.

  • raveendra ranganatha on January 13, 2014, 8:53 GMT

    @Vkohlithegreat.. Then you should accept that the same thing happened in the 2011 world cup final. India won the toss and won the match

  • Dummy4 on January 13, 2014, 8:29 GMT

    Good beginning for the SL team under Angelo Mathews. However, they need to maintain their competitiveness. It is only then that they will be called for test tours by other countries. There are a lot of comments here comparing the Indian team with the SL team. Remember, everything goes in cycles. The Indian team with the fabolous line up of Viru Sehwag, Dravid, Sachin , VVS and Sourav, was the only team that was able to hold its own against the rampaging Aussies for much of the last decade. They also won series in England, WI , NZ and Pakistan. They drew series against the Aussies in Australia at their peak, while doing so again in 2008 when they lost due to controversial umpiring in Sydney. They also won tests in SA in 2006 and 2010. This time around too, a rookie team of Indian batsmen with a combined experience of about 30 tests almost won the first test in SA. It is because of this competitiveness that the Indian team is much sought after. The Sri Lankans are also capable of it.

  • Fauzer on January 13, 2014, 7:57 GMT

    @VKohlitheGraet: Mate, you are describing exactly how a test match is won. Picking a well balanced team to suit the conditions and the opposition, if you are lucky to win the toss, make a wise choice, and the whole or most of the team making the best use of conditions and actually delivers what the captain asks for, taking your catches when they come, and physically and mentally perservere when things are tough. That IS how you win a test match. Don't look so surprised. (I'm doing a cut and paste since this guy has dnoe the same with his comment).

  • Dru on January 13, 2014, 7:52 GMT

    I think this read sums up things well and there could be no better example of knowing your limitations than Vaas, whose influence was all over the SL team attach. Vaas was never going to beat with you pace, bouce and hostility and he knew that and concentrated on line, length and subtle movement. I felt the SL seamers for starters bowling on one side of the wicket and showed signs of moving the ball and even reverse swing capable of taking wickets. It was also interesting that SL didnt use Pradeep as the enforcer for short bowling. Praddep delivered some great deliveries and showed improved control. As the writer say its only one game but its light at the end ot eh tunnel and a way forward for SL in tests.

  • Randika on January 13, 2014, 7:31 GMT

    @VKohlitheGreat: So my friend from India, inyour opinion who took those Pakistani wickets, Sri Lanka bowlers or the Toss?

  • Fauzer on January 13, 2014, 7:13 GMT

    I was lucky to be able to watch most of the match on TV. Perfect test cricket from Sri Lanka. Awsome. :)

  • Andy on January 13, 2014, 6:23 GMT

    the Sri Lankan team seems to have rediscovered their flair for attacking cricket once again but together with that they seem to have alsi, as Andrew has stated "understood their limitations" as well. A combination of that helped them win this match.

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