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Match Analysis

Galle revels in perfect day

The ground slowly filled and the tension slowly built, even the clouds held off from bursting as Sri Lanka closed in on a memorable win

As the day went on and Sri Lanka edged closer to victory, the ground filled up  •  AFP

As the day went on and Sri Lanka edged closer to victory, the ground filled up  •  AFP

A kite had taken flight above Galle Fort when play began on the final day. Blue, green, red and yellow, with a diamond head and a flared bottom, it sailed just above the clocktower, multi-coloured tassels streaming behind. July and August are kite-flying months in Sri Lanka, when wind comes strong off the sea.
Each different style of kite is named after an animal. This one was a maaluwa - a fish. Almost everyone on the island would have flown a maaluwa at some point. Every year, kids across the island wait for the months when kites take over corner shops, seasides and the sky.
Only about 200 fans had come for the early start, but the kite looked over the action when Shaminda Eranga loped in to deliver his first ball of the morning. The Galle Stadium may be the most accessible ground in cricket. Often those wandering by on the pavement around the ground stop beneath a tree to take in a few overs, then return to their day.
Others walk in to the stadium when they have a break at work. The ground has been free to enter for about two years, so the crowd has learned to oscillate with the cricket. It had been at its peak, in the first four days, when Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara were batting together. They came in droves to watch Sangakkara pass 200 too, then hurried back to their shops, buses and roadside stands.
The locals have also seen plenty of Galle pitches: the dustbowls that sang for Murali, and the dry tracks that reverse-swung for Lasith Malinga and Chaminda Vaas. They knew a result was unlikely on Sunday on a track that had barely registered bowlers' footmarks by the fifth day. They wanted a little magic from their team before they would brave the heat.
After Murali, Rangana Herath had made Galle sing for him too but, in 2014, his fingers have lacked for a bit of extra rip in Tests. Saddled with an extraordinary workload as well, he was visibly drained on the fifth day of Sri Lanka's last Test, at the SSC, when he was expected to lead the victory charge only for South Africa to hold on. At Headingley, he removed only lower-order batsmen, as Sri Lanka strove for 90.3 overs on the final day.
By the force of will of 5000 Sri Lankans and a captain who admitted he was praying, the colossal black cloud that hung over the stadium did not loose a drop until seconds after the winning run was struck
Herath has now bowled 560 overs since December 31, 2013 but nothing, not fatigue, not bad knees or tired arms could prevent him on this day. He had seemed flat since lunch on day one, but suddenly he was beating both edges of the bat. Some slid on. Others stopped and turned. Smelling blood, Herath quickly was moving around on his crease, encouraging the batsmen to do the same. When he dressed a straight one up as a big turner and sneaked it through Younis Khan's defence, Sri Lanka came alive, knowing they now stood a chance. Within minutes the ground was fuller. Galle had begun to believe as well.
As the afternoon wore on, the party started to come together, the kite still flying high above. Baila boomed out of the speakers between overs. Groups of kids in the stands with a dhol sang their Sinhala and Tamil tunes in between. When the crowd's voice grew loud, Herath's spin became more vicious.
On so many days this year, he has been as accurate as he ever was, but the bite had deserted him. Here, the killer ball was humming along with the baila. Azhar Ali got a few straight ones, then one spun hard, that teased him forward then dived and jived to take the outside edge. Asad Shafiq got a big rippers and then was nailed by the arm ball. Mohammad Talha barely had a chance when one spat to take his outside edge.
"This is not a kind of pitch that is bowler friendly," Herath said, "but I realised that on the fifth day, there was something in it for the spinners. We had a lot of faith.
"When you are bowling well, you can take wickets against any country, but against Pakistan, I have over 70 wickets. Maybe I have a psychological effect on them, having bowled Sri Lanka to many victories over them."
Barely a cup of coffee would have been sold by the main bus stand in Galle, as the last session wound on. Shops were boarded up. Workplaces abandoned. Kids had stopped play to flood the grass banks, which were jammed before Sri Lanka began their second innings. The hundreds who couldn't find space in the ground climbed up on the ramparts of the Fort.
Sri Lanka would have hoped Jayawardene would hit the winning runs, that he would give Galle one final late-as-sin cut, a swivel pull or a breezy cover drive. But not everything happens to plan in Sri Lanka. After the stadium had rose to applaud him when he left this field for the final time, Angelo Mathews and Kithuruwan Vithanage sent fresh waves of energy through the stands and across the top of the fort, as they hooked Sri Lanka to the brink. By the force of will of 5000 Sri Lankans below, and a captain who admitted he was praying, the colossal black cloud that hung over the stadium did not loose a drop until seconds after the winning run was struck. As if it had been holding it all in for a Sri Lanka win, the rain came down in a hurry.
The crowd danced on the banks as the rains fell, and the groundsmen joined them from just outside the rope. The revelry soon started to spill into town, and then the sodden kite finally began to sink.
It had seen it all from above. Sunday had been a day of resurgence, a day of luck, a day to party and a day to hope. From morning until dusk, the kite had been there, all along, watching the perfect Sri Lankan day unfold.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando