At Khettarama Stadium, Colombo, August 28, 29, 30, September 1, 2. Drawn. Toss: Sri Lanka. Test debuts: M. Muralitharan, D. K. Liyanage.
The loss of more than six hours to rain and poor light stole any sense of occasion or excitement from the first Test match to be played at Khettarama, the stadium built on reclaimed marshland which became the 66th Test ground and the fourth in Colombo. Watched by the smallest crowds of the series, Australia once more struggled against an attack including the two newcomers: Duleep Liyanage, a pace bowler, and off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan. From the moment Australia were required to bat first against the seaming ball on a pitch chosen at the eleventh hour by Anuruddha Polonowitta, who combined his role as supervisor of groundsmen with chairing the Sri Lankan selectors, there were striking similarities with the First Test. Indeed, it was the fourth time Ranatunga had won the toss and chosen to field in his four Tests as captain against Australia.
But for the diligent half-centuries by Jones and Matthews, Australia's early discomfort on the deceptively slow pitch would have been greater. As it was, their score of 247 in six hours and 50 minutes seemed hopelessly inadequate when Sri Lanka responded with 161 for two by tea on the third day. But Australia claimed seven wickets for 97 in the final session - the last five for 18 runs in 13 overs. Though Moody made the initial breakthrough by bowling the belligerent Hathurusinghe, it was McDermott who started the landslide. Using the old ball, and with Border sending down miserly slow left-arm spin from the other end, McDermott took four for 11, one bowled and three caught behind, in an outstanding seven over spell. Apart from De Silva, who batted with both flair and responsibility for 85 in four hours, and Hathurusinghe, no one reached 30. Mahanama and Jayasuriya, in particular, fell to poor shots; Mahanama became Dodemaide's first Test wicket for nearly four years as he made an impressive return in place of Warne.
Errors in the field, notably by Kaluwitharana, who twice missed stumping Jones off Anurasiri, once before he had scored, cost Sri Lanka a priceless opportunity to press for victory. Australia floundered against the spinners Anurasiri and Muralitharan, who bowled 34 overs between them. Muralitharan removed Moody and Waugh with consecutive balls, and the tourists were a tremulous 149 for five during the final session of the fourth day, before Jones, who offered two more chances, and Matthews restored order with a sixth-wicket stand of 131 in 155 minutes. While Jones's undefeated 100 in four hours and 41 minutes was probably the least convincing of his 11 Test centuries (three in five matches against Sri Lanka), it came at a vital time and finally put the match beyond the diffident Sri Lankans' reach. They made no attempt to meet Border's challenge of 286 in the time that remained.