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Sri Lanka completed their first clean sweep of a three-Test series after 20 years of trying, but for West Indies the result was dismally familiar. Three crushing defeats - twice by ten wickets, once by 131 runs - extended their overseas record since beating Australia at Perth in February 1997 to a humiliating 21 losses in 25 Tests.
Yet the lasting memory will be of the sublime batting of Brian Lara and especially his duels with the otherwise unstoppable off-spinner, Muttiah Muralitharan, which added fuel to the argument that he was less comfortable bowling to left-handers. Lara had pulled out of West Indies' tour of Zimbabwe in June, and his fitness was still in doubt barely a week before the party flew to Sri Lanka. But he said he was determined to raise his Test average, which had dropped below 48, back above 50. It was a monumental task in a short series, but he coped with Muralitharan so easily that he achieved it during the final Test, when he followed his first-innings 221 with 130, carrying his aggregate to 688 at an average of nearly 115. Before Lara, only Graham Gooch had reached 600 runs in a series of three Tests.
In spite of Lara's eventual mastery over him, Muralitharan posed such problems to the other batsmen with his prodigious turn, teasing flight and clever variations that he took 11 wickets in the First Test at Galle and ten in the Second at his native Kandy. But he was dramatically upstaged at Colombo by Chaminda Vaas, whose controlled, each-way left-arm swing earned him two seven-wicket hauls. Vaas finished with 26 wickets to Muralitharan's 24.
Lara shared three century partnerships with Ramnaresh Sarwan, the only other positive to emerge from West Indies' dispiriting trip. Batting at No. 3, Sarwan responded with pleasing maturity and averaged 53, despite invariably coming in after an early wicket. Apart from these two, no one managed more than the captain Carl Hooper's 27.83. The rest of the batting was so brittle, and so obviously missed the experience of Shivnarine Chanderpaul (absent with a back injury), that even powerful positions - 409 for four at lunch on the second day at Galle, 327 for three after the first day at Colombo - counted for nothing. There were 18 ducks in all, and the last four wickets added, on average, just 26.50.
While Sri Lanka's bowling depended heavily on Muralitharan and Vaas, who shared 358 of the 566 overs and 50 of the 60 wickets, the batting was a real team effort. Leading the way was Hashan Tillekeratne, who was dismissed only once while amassing 403 runs, and hit an unbeaten 204 in the last Test. The wicket-keeper, Kumar Sangakkara, was the other century-maker, with 140 at Galle, and, along with Thilan Samaraweera and Mahela Jayawardene, averaged over 60.
On true pitches with even bounce, West Indies had no bowler who remotely matched Muralitharan's exceptional spin or Vaas's swing, and were powerless to prevent the run glut. Merv Dillon led the attack manfully, but ran foul of management after the last Test. Fearing violence on the day of national elections, he refused to attend team practice ahead of the one-day series, and was sent home as a disciplinary measure. It was a further dent to team morale. Injury had ruled the fast bowler Reon King out of the series and a heart ailment sent the opener Leon Garrick home early, immediately after Wavell Hinds had returned because of a family bereavement; the leg-spinner Dinanath Ramnarine joined the injury list during the last Test. But the worst blow was still to come: in the one-day series, which found West Indies in indifferent form, Lara fractured his elbow. These were all distractions the West Indians could have done without against their strong, well-organised hosts.
Match reports for
Tour Match: Sri Lanka A v West Indians at Colombo (NCC), Nov 3-5, 2001
Tour Match: Sri Lanka A v West Indians at Matara, Nov 8-10, 2001