Reflecting on what had been a bleak year, Angelo Mathews thanked Sri Lankan fans for their support, following his team's first Test victory since October. The 106-run victory in Pallekele was just Sri Lanka's second against Australia, but also Mathews' first triumph over a Test-playing nation in 2016. Sri Lanka had beaten India in a T20 in Pune, but Mathews had been unavailable through injury during that series.
"After a rough, tough six to eight months, we needed that victory," Mathews said. "In that time, there was a situation where fans were turning away from us. As cricketers we feel that, because when we play well everyone loves you. Even when you lose they may love you, but they are also disappointed. The best thing was to win this match for the fans. It's a great win for those who stayed with us, and we thank them because that support means a lot.
"In the past six months, we as a team got a lot of stick. But that's part and parcel of the game. When we do well we get praised. When we do badly we get a bit of stick. I think we as players need to understand that."
Mathews was full of praise for Man of the Match Kusal Mendis, whose 176 had transformed the outlook of the match. Mathews said he had seen something special in Mendis as far back as December, when Sri Lanka toured New Zealand. Mendis had played only one first-class season at the time, without particularly stellar returns.
"The selectors said he was really good, but I hadn't seen him much to be honest," Mathews said. "Once we went to NZ I thought Kusal was pretty special as well. The way he handled himself at the top of the order - it was a couple of tough tours for him as well in New Zealand and England, where it was seaming around. You don't always have to have a lot of experience. There can be exceptional players like him who can walk into the international scene and start performing."
Mendis' score was more than triple what any other batsman managed in the game, and had rescued Sri Lanka from a first-innings deficit of 86.
"Especially playing his first Test against Australia and their very good attack, Mendis showed a lot of class and a lot of temperament," Mathews said. "It was not easy to bat on that wicket. It was turning rapidly and their bowlers were bowling well and fast as well. The way he played, he made it look so easy. Most of us were struggling to get runs. The way he batted, I'm very excited for the future."
Debutant left-arm wristspinner Lakshan Sandakan was also instrumental to the victory, taking seven wickets in the match. He was part of a three-man frontline spin attack, featuring Rangana Herath and Dilruwan Perera, but he turned the ball substantially more than either senior spinner.
"When Rangana is bowling, he is attacking but also he contains," Mathews said. "We needed someone like Sandakan. Unfortunately, Dilruwan didn't bowl that well in the game, and I'm sure he'll come back strongly. But it was very pleasing to see Sandakan bowling his googlies, and also the batsmen were finding it very tough on this wicket. He will take the confidence of this performance forward."
Mathews was quick to stress that plenty of work remained to be done in both the series, and with the team, but said the team environment had already benefited from the vibes resulting from a victory.
"The atmosphere in dressing room has changed a lot. Even though we lost in the recent past, we've not given up. We always had hopes. We always helped each other. Every team goes through this transition period, and once you click, you can go a long way. That's what we believed. We kept helping the youngsters and even the youngsters threw in their ideas. It was a collective effort from the whole team."