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At Sinhalese Sports Club, Colombo, September 6, 7, 8. Sri Lanka won by an innings and 137 runs. Sri Lanka 24 pts. Toss: Sri Lanka. Test debuts: M. G. Vandort; Mohammad Ashraful.
A week after their demolition by Pakistan, Bangladesh took on Sri Lanka, who had just beaten India by an innings. Another hopeless mismatch was widely predicted - and resulted, though not before some Bangladeshi pride was restored. Even before a ball was bowled, the visitors were left in little doubt about their standing in Sri Lankan eyes: attendance was derisory, despite free entry, while Jayasuriya was sure enough of a quick kill to bowl first on a near-perfect batting pitch. And, by the time Muralitharan took the final wicket, before tea on the third afternoon, their assessment had been vindicated: Sri Lanka won by an innings and 137 runs, then their biggest victory in Tests. One Bangladesh player, however, saved the game from complete farce, and his team from total humiliation. Mohammad Ashraful, on debut, became the youngest player to hit a century in Test history.
Jayasuriya's decision to bowl first, variously interpreted as confident or condescending, was unquestionably successful. Bangladesh's batting crumpled inside 37 overs for a paltry 90 - their lowest total, and the lowest by any Test side against Sri Lanka. Ashraful top-scored with a defiant 26, and Muralitharan took five wickets for 13.
Sri Lanka's innings instantly put even Muralitharan in the shade. In a withering assault on Bangladesh's innocuous medium-pacers, Jayasuriya looked set for the fastest Test century of all, before losing first momentum, then his wicket. Even so, his 89 came from 56 balls and included 68 in boundaries. Atapattu cruised to a double-century, his fifth in 48 Tests, from only eight hundreds. He reached it, with his 27th four, in 256 balls and 320 minutes; three balls later, his captain called him in and, for the first time in 1,561 Tests, the words "retired out" appeared on a scorecard. The same fate met Jayawardene after he had smashed 150 off 115 balls. Reaction was strong: some in the Sri Lankan press claimed Test cricket had been demeaned. On the field, it made little difference, as Sri Lanka sailed on to 555 at an overall rate of 5.36 an over.
With a bone-dry pitch offering Muralitharan increasing turn, the 466 Bangladesh needed to make Sri Lanka bat again was always fanciful, but Ashraful provided a memorable distraction. Strong-wristed, quick-footed and breathtakingly audacious, he crashed a series of bouncers from Vaas through mid-wicket and danced down the track to loft Muralitharan handsomely over the top.
Whatever his exact age - some claimed he would turn 17 the next day, others that he had done so 63 days earlier - his place as Test cricket's youngest centurion, breaking Mushtaq Mohammad's record, was beyond dispute. It was a special performance, even if there was little at stake. Despite the unexpected resistance, Sri Lanka retained control; eventually, they took the last five wickets for 25, including Ashraful for a four-hour 114. For the second time in the game, Murali claimed five wickets, extending his career total to 350 from 66 Tests. No other bowler had reached the landmark so quickly. He generously donated his share of the cheque for the match award to Ashraful.
Men of the Match: Mohammad Ashraful and M. Muralitharan.
Close of play: First day, Sri Lanka 246-1 (Atapattu 99, Sangakkara 49); Second day, Bangladesh 100-4 (Aminul Islam 19, Mohammad Ashraful 4).
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