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Match Analysis

Do you believe in magic? Maybe it's the only thing that makes sense

It's been a mad few days - we're still making sense of it, or trying to

All square: Dimuth Karunaratne was able to galvanise his team among a host of challenges  •  AFP/Getty Images

All square: Dimuth Karunaratne was able to galvanise his team among a host of challenges  •  AFP/Getty Images

If cricket is art, and art imitates life, then conjuring magic from crisis is Sri Lanka's medium.
The approach to this Test was an untrammelled mess. The first to test positive for Covid in Sri Lanka's squad was Angelo Mathews, who apparently is so careful he basically wakes up and puts on a mask before he meets his own reflection in the mirror.
Mathews was okay to play the second Test having ended his isolation well before its start. But the infection spread. Dhananjaya de Silva, who was the most-recent Sri Lanka batter to have played a match-winning innings in Galle, was ruled out of this match. Left-arm spinner Praveen Jayawickrama also went down with it when he was pretty much a sure thing to play. Asitha Fernando, Sri Lanka's best bowler from the recent Bangladesh tour, was Covided out too. As was Jeffrey Vandersay.
They kept pulling players into the squad as more went down, with Prabath Jayasuriya being the last addition. On the eve of the match, captain Dimuth Karunaratne could not be sure of what his team the next day could be. "We have another Covid test in the squad this evening," he said. "We don't know who is going to get ruled out because of that. We don't know what our team would be."
They'd also lost the last game in an embarrassingly short space of time (bowled out inside 22 overs in the second innings), seemed to have no earthly notion about how they should play Nathan Lyon, and had a spin attack that could barely keep it on the straight.
But that was on the cricket field.
Off it, Sri Lanka was in the midst of one of the worst throes of an economic crisis - little fuel to be found, food prohibitively expensive, businesses shutting down, hospitals short of medicines and staff. Which of course had sparked a major political crisis. Which in turn, prompted protests that the state bore down on with its military and police. You don't have to be anti-government to know that banning spectators from watching the cricket from the fort's ramparts because you're afraid of protesters, is a little messed up. (This was one of the Sri Lankan state's more minor infractions.)
A crisis just waiting to have some magic conjured out of it? Let's go over there. Reach in. Armpit deep into the hat. See what we find. This is what it's about. This is where Sri Lanka lives right now. Or perhaps always.
On the field, it's mad. While people rush around the ground and reclaim a public space, the team bursts through Australia's lower-middle order and overwhelms the tail, Jayasuriya running through the batters.
Jayasuriya had not only not been in the squad when the series began, he was only called in a couple of days before the game, after Jayawickrama and Vandersay were both ruled out, and Lasith Embuldeniya was cut loose because he was woefully short of form.
Two spinners ruled out through illness, another because he's not very good right now - this is a crisis, right? Which, if we're buying into this narrative, also means magic. Jayasuriya, getting spectacular flight and dip, turning most deliveries, sending others straight, getting six wickets on debut to have Australia out for a competitive-but-not-commanding 364. Minor magic, maybe. But screw it. Sri Lanka lost the last match inside two days, essentially. We'll take it.
Then the batting starts. As protest chants ring out through the stadium, Karunaratne and Kusal Mendis put on 152 for the second wicket. Are they spurred by the chants? Are they distracted by them? Do they wish their cricket wasn't put in such close proximity to the politics of it all in an article days later? That people supposed to write about cricket would just write about cricket?
Who knows. Things happened. It's been a mad few days. We're still making sense of it.
The 133-run Kamindu Mendis-Dinesh Chandimal stand? Still making sense of that too. Kamindu is playing his first ever Test innings. Chandimal his 123rd. And yet, to watch most of this partnership, you'd think the credentials had been switched. Kamindu is serene, picking casual singles on the offside, cutting Nathan Lyon backward of point, reverse-sweeping Mitchell Swepson through the same area, defending resolutely. Chandimal, pushing with hard hands, block-bashing his way to 50.
But then, after lunch on day four, it is Chandimal who is still there, Kamindu's innings now a distant memory. There are four sixes in the company of the No. 11, all of them spectacular. One is an astonishing cut off Pat Cummins, way over backward point. The rest are towering strikes against Mitchell Starc, the most spectacular was the one that sailed over the sightscreen, past the stadium fence, and on to the road beyond the stadium.
At one point a lead of 100 seemed fanciful. Here was Chandimal, playing one of the best innings of his life, pushing it toward 200.
The Australian unraveling in their second innings was almost too smooth to believe. Jayasuriya, now apparently Sri Lanka's lead spinner, having been magicked out of the domestic system because of Covid reasons and been asked to win a match on the fourth day in Galle, is basically an unthinking devotee rushing through a religious routine, offering batters up at this altar of spin bowling.
He's taken 6 for 59, but through most of this, all the action seems involuntary. Usman Khawaja was out bat-pad, Steven Smith reviews a resplendently plumb lbw, Marnus Labuschagne considered following in the footsteps of his hero but walked off, and then Jayasuriya gobbled up the middle order and the tail.
Elsewhere, Maheesh Theekshana takes two wickets, also on debut. And Ramesh Mendis snatches two of his own. This is not an experienced spin attack. Between them, these three spinners have 10 Tests on their ledger.
But then this is a country in which a profoundly depressing economic crisis has sparked the kind of popular revolution that's seen people take over the public-funded residences of top government officials. A place where debutants bowl their side to victory and whole batting line-ups suddenly fire simultaneously.
Will it take Sri Lankan cricket to a new era? Who knows? There is crisis. But here's your medicine. Get some magic down you.

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