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Match Analysis

Mathews, Chandimal, Asitha and Rajitha give Sri Lanka something to cheer about

The quartet stepped up to make up for the lack of penetration from spinners and delivered a 1-0 series win

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Asitha Fernando picked up his maiden five-wicket haul in the second Test  •  AFP/Getty Images

Asitha Fernando picked up his maiden five-wicket haul in the second Test  •  AFP/Getty Images

The power cuts and long fuel queues sent the Test series in Bangladesh down the priority list of many Sri Lankans. However, there might be a little smile on their faces when they see the highlights or the scorecard of their ten-wicket win in Dhaka. A joyful moment in an otherwise bleak period in Sri Lankan history.
For the cricket team, this is a significant series win sandwiched between a horrible India tour and the upcoming home series against Australia and Pakistan. In the past, Sri Lanka used to ease past Bangladesh in Tests. However, now with an improved side as their opponent, Sri Lanka had to face a few challenges before eventually defeating the hosts 1-0 in the two-match series.
Though most batters had a good outing, it was particularly heartening to see seniors Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal deliver, when Sri Lanka were in a spot of bother.
Sri Lanka benefited from a good mix of experience and youth. Senior players gave them big runs with match-defining partnerships while the rookie fast bowlers delivered match-winning performances. Mathews deservedly won the Player-of-the-Series award after his best Test series in seven years. Chandimal was among the runs in both Tests, notably scoring his first hundred in four years.
But it wasn't just about individual brilliance. Mathews and Chandimal defied Bangladesh twice in crucial junctures. Mathews put together two big partnerships in Dhaka, including the 199-run stand for the sixth wicket with Chandimal. The pair batted in contrasting fashion, with Mathews trusting his defense above everything. He has a strong defensive technique and he prefers playing straight, which is a recipe for success in Bangladesh, where the pitches are slower and lower. Batters who play straight are often rewarded.
Chandimal, on the other hand, is trying to rediscover his aggressive streak, often charging at the Bangladesh spinners to bunt them down the ground. It was demoralising for the bowlers, and he balanced it with solid square-cuts and drives. Dimuth Karunaratne, a usually heavy scorer, also got important runs while Oshada Fernando, Kusal Mendis and Dhananjaya de Silva pitched in with handy contributions as well.
"With their experience, Angelo and Chandimal are greedy for their runs," wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella said. "They knew this is the best opportunity to go for big scores. They did a great job and are taking the pressure off the youngsters. They are doing their job properly."
However, the most remarkable aspect of Sri Lanka's victory was their bowling. Asitha Fernando became only the second fast bowler in their history to take a ten-wicket haul. The first was their fast-bowling coach Chaminda Vaas, who had two such hauls in 1995 and 2001. Fernando and Kasun Rajitha, who took his maiden five-wicket haul in the first innings in Dhaka, combined to take 17 wickets in the second Test.
Rajitha and Asitha used the new ball superbly on the first morning of the second Test. In less than seven overs, they exposed Bangladesh's inability to tackle subtle seam movement. There wasn't visible swing but there was enough seam movement as the duo picked up five early wickets. Fernando's use of the short ball, reverse-swing and skiddiness was compelling to watch. Rajitha was slightly more experienced but he too kicked things up a notch.
Only Mushfiqur Rahim and Litton Das resisted them with their batting skills and intelligence. The rest of the Bangladesh line-up scored only 32 runs out of their 365 in the first innings.
"These are not the wickets we played on last time, when the ball was spinning and turning," Dickwella said. "This time it was dead and flat tracks, good for batsmen. Our fast bowlers came up with their plans. Their execution was good. In both Tests, there wasn't much for spinners but the fast bowlers did well. Our batsmen also made the job easier for our bowlers.
"In the first innings, there was something for the seamers - a bit of movement and swing. We took five early wickets but we couldn't quite take the other five wickets [quickly]. In the second innings, [the bounce] was going up and down. Seam movement was there. We stuck to our basic line and length. We wanted to bowl stump line in the second innings.
"We knew the top-order was struggling in the first innings. We wanted to bowl line and length first. With Asitha's pace and tactics with the short ball, we knew it would be hard for them. We wanted to spread the field, not to give easy runs, and then attack when possible.
"We had a calm dressing room. We knew we were just one wicket away from the tail-enders. We kept our nerves. I think Asitha came up with a brilliant catch. It was the turning point."
The spinners took only one wicket, taking their tally to just three wickets in the Test series, Sri Lanka's second-lowest returns by a spin attack (when they have bowled more than 181 overs in a series).
Ramesh Mendis played both games and they alternated between Lasith Embuldeniya and Praveen Jayawickrama, but none of the options worked. Jayawickrama bowled brilliantly against Bangladesh last year, but was a pale shadow of his former self this time.
The fact that Bangladesh still couldn't get into advantageous positions in both Tests is a huge tribute to Rajitha and Asitha.
In the next couple of years under Silverwood and Vaas, there's potential for Asitha and Rajitha to keep improving, while more robust bowlers can come through the system.
But it is hard to assume that Sri Lanka still doesn't have their house in order. After Kamil Mishra's ejection midway through the tour, Silverwood has to address disciplinary issues among the young players. Undoubtedly, fitness, too, will be near or on top of his laundry list. But in his first series in charge of Sri Lanka, Silverwood also must have found many positives to work with in the coming months.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84