First Test

Sri Lanka v West Indies

At Galle, November 13, 14, 15, 16, 17. Sri Lanka won by ten wickets. Toss: West Indies. Test debut: T. C. B. Fernando.

Had it not involved a fallible West Indies team and Muttiah Muralitharan, near-infallible at the Galle International Stadium, the circumstances of Sri Lanka's victory might have been a case study for Lord Condon's Anti-Corruption Unit.

At lunch on the second day, West Indies were 409 for four, with Lara motoring on 167; by tea on the fifth, their last man, Stuart, was sending a gentle catch to mid-off to give Muralitharan his fifth wicket of the innings and 11th of the match. Sixteen West Indian wickets had fallen for 169, and Sri Lanka required only three runs for a first victory in their four Tests against them.

The result surprised no one. West Indies had developed an uncanny record of turning domination into defeat, while Galle, overlooked by its 17th-century Dutch fort, had become something of a cricket fortress for Sri Lanka, with Muralitharan its commander. He had taken 39 wickets in his last four Tests there, all resulting in emphatic home wins.

On the opening day, Muralitharan had toiled 40 overs in the sweltering heat for a solitary wicket. But he turned the game dramatically on the second afternoon. In a spell of 6.4 overs, he claimed four for nine, starting with Lara, to trigger a collapse in which the last six wickets tumbled for 25. It was a psychological setback from which West Indies never recovered.

Lara had swiftly taken charge when he arrived at the crease, shortly after lunch on the opening day. He first used the sweep to counter Muralitharan, forcing him to alter his line, before reverting to a more perpendicular bat. Sarwan, batting at No. 3 for only the second time in Tests, lost little by comparison in a stand of 145. But after playing impeccably for four and a half hours, he once more fell frustratingly short of a maiden hundred, diverting a cut off Muralitharan into his stumps. Lara kept going to reach his 16th Test hundred, but his first since scoring 182 at Adelaide 11 months earlier.

By now, his partner was the captain, Hooper, and next day they extended their fourth-wicket stand to 153, as West Indies built what looked like an invincible total. The first crack came when Muralitharan's juggled return catch got rid of Hooper 25 minutes before lunch. But it was his dismissal of Lara, who gloved a sweep and was well held by Sangakkara, diving forward from behind the stumps, that set off West Indies' rapid collapse. Lara had made a monumental 178, but the next time he batted, he was trying to stave off an innings defeat.

Sri Lanka's confident batsmen quickly put the pitch and an inexperienced attack, limited to two fast bowlers, into proper perspective. Sangakkara shared successive stands of 109 with Atapattu and 162 with the bubbly Jayawardene, who was run out by Samuels's direct hit from mid-wicket, one short of his fourth hundred in four Tests. His ebullient innings lit up the third day, shortened to 75 overs by fading light, and the rate slackened after his departure. After almost nine hours of patient accumulation, Sangakkara was also run out; he offered difficult chances on 72 and 126.

Sri Lanka were still 53 behind, but Tillekeratne, intent on re-establishing what had become a tenuous position in the team, and Samaraweera slowly and remorselessly pushed past West Indies in a 154-run partnership that included only two fours. Jayasuriya waited until Tillekeratne had completed his eighth Test hundred, which took nearly six and a half hours, before declaring, 142 ahead.

Ganga and Sarwan raised West Indian hopes of holding out for a draw when they reduced that by almost half. But when they were dismissed within seven balls on the last morning, only Lara, who the previous evening had announced he would make 150 and save the game, delayed Sri Lanka for long. Muralitharan completed his 30th haul of five or more wickets in a Test innings, and Jayasuriya did the rest.

Man of the Match: M. Muralitharan.

© John Wisden & Co