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July 23, 2002
It may not have healed the scars of their battering in England, but Sri Lanka will be hoping that normal service has resumed after an emphatic innings and 196 run victory against Bangladesh, the largest ever win in their 126 Test history.
Unfortunately, as captain Sanath Jayasuriya admitted afterwards, the hard truth is that the win only glosses over the side's current problems. Despite winning within three days and scoring a record 509 runs on the second day, Sri Lanka can take few positives out of a game they were expected to win by a country mile.
The fast bowlers were poor in both innings: Dilhara Fernando and his namesake Buddika were short and erratic; debutante left-armer Sujeewa de Silva swung the odd ball, but did little to suggest he would prosper against one of the major Test nations.
The normally mild mannered Jayasuriya was scathing afterwards: "It was good to see us winning a Test match again but I am not happy with the bowlers. They failed to bowl a consistent line and length and there were too many no balls. We bowled poorly in England and again here. It's a problem - we have got to sort it out as soon as possible."
And the batting coughed and spluttered against teenage medium pacers until Aravinda de Silva pulled on his 19 years of experience to rescue the hosts from severe embarrassment. Sanath Jayasuriya's tenth Test century, as entertaining as it was, meant little against such a flimsy attack, even if it was made in the middle order, his new home.
The fact that it was the experience players that dug Sri Lanka out of a hole early on the second day was not lost on Jayasuriya, who is unhappy that the selectors have decided to rest five more players for the second Test match starting Sunday, including vice captain Marvan Atapattu, star batsman Mahela Jayawardene, Russel Arnold, Kumar Sangakkara and Muttiah Muralitharan.
"You need some experience," he argued. "Yesterday we were 56 for three and it was only because of the experience in the middle order that we managed to get the runs. Next game there will only be Hashan Tillakaratne and Thilan Samaraweera with me."
He wants Muralitharan to play: "He's naturally disappointed, as anyone would be to miss a game. If Murali is fit we should go with him. But the selectors have picked the side and I have to go with it. I don't know anything about most of the youngsters, as I have not played with them."
Muralitharan was man of the match here. Playing on his home ground for the first time in his Test career, the off-spinner spun out the middle order to claim his 36th five-for, equally Sir Richard Hadlee's world record. He finished with ten for 98 in the match, his 11th tenth wicket haul.
Bangladesh's Pakistan coach, Mohsin Kamal, in charge for the first time, identified Muralitharan as the major factor: "It was only Muralitharan, who gets wickets against the bigger teams as well. Him taking five is not a big deal against us, but we have to make sure he conceded more runs. We have to minimise our mistakes against him."
It was, however, Sri Lanka's new ball bowlers that made the early inroads, reducing Bangladesh to 14 for two before a 77 run stand between top scorer Al Sahariar (67) and the experienced Habibul Bashar (34).
Eventually, Jayasuriya's exasperation with his aerosol attack forced him to turn to spin at both ends. Muralitharan struck in his sixth over, clean bowling Bashar as the right-hander tried to force through the off-side. 22 minutes later he was left on a hat-trick as both Akram Khan (5) and Aminul Islam (0) popped up bat-pad catches.
When Muralitharan dismissed Al Sahariar in a similar manner, straight after the luncheon interval, Bangladesh knew they could not last into the fourth day, despite a brave two-hour 26 from captain Khaled Mashud. When he top edged a sweep of Aravinda de Silva, the tourists were all out for 184.
For Bangladesh, the greatest positive, apart from the news that they don't have to face Muralitharan next game, was the performance of their teenage medium pacers. Khan, a fast bowler himself, praised their efforts afterwards: "They bowled according to the conditions, keeping their line, and got the results. The rest of the day they were on and off, but they are young and have shown good improvement in the last month."
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