Match Analysis

When Brathwaite bamboozled Holder, and Sri Lanka

Kraigg Brathwaite gutted Sri Lanka, and moved his team briskly towards parity, surprising his captain as well as the opposition

Kraigg Brathwaite, owner of three first-class wickets, wasn't so sure his captain Jason Holder believed he could take wickets when he came on to bowl the 53rd over. Through the course of the third innings, Brathwaite would be caught in a flush of self-confidence. He gutted Sri Lanka's middle and lower orders, moved his team briskly towards parity, and forcefully proved to Holder that he had been absolutely correct not to believe in him, because come on, the guy only had three first class wickets.
Perhaps if his wickets had come cheaply; but they had not. Each had cost 67, and had been achieved across 80 matches. To put the number three into unnecessary perspective, consider that even Kaushal Silva - a wicketkeeper - has only two fewer first-class scalps, at an average of 33. Which means that this morning, Brathwaite's first-class bowling average was twice as bad as that of a man so small his approach to the crease would have to have included being shot out of cannon in order for him to get the ball above the batsman's eyeline.
After the day's play, Brathwaite revealed he had been asking for the ball for a while. "Jason knows I like to bowl," he said. "I was always in his ears telling him I could get the breakthrough. It came a point where he said he'd give it to me."
It's easy to sympathise with Holder's plight here. All around the world, at all levels of cricket, deluded top-order batsmen are forever pleading for the ball, and the chance to break a partnership. When the captain succumbs to the buzzing of this mosquito, the top-order batsman proceeds to be smeared around the ground. It is then customary to blame the field that had been set. It's a no-win scenario for the captain usually. As Brathwaite's haul grew heavier through the afternoon, Holder himself looked like he couldn't quite believe how lucky he had struck it. But then again, this is the Sri Lanka batting order. Maybe he shouldn't have been so surprised.
The hosts can now add "part-time offspinner with three first-class wickets" to the long list of bowlers who have run through them in the past year. Carelessness, rather than incompetence, was the basis of this slide. Milinda Siriwardana had sparkled during his 42 from 60 balls, but edged his first ball from Brathwaite to slip. Kusal Perera got a bottom edge to a delivery that stayed lower than he expected. Importantly, Brathwaite wasn't trying too much. He just maintained a tight line, and surrendered each delivery to the whims of a dusty surface.
Rangana Herath came up the order to strike a lively 18. He had apparently had a special batting practice session at Khettarama in the days leading up to this Test. In this late stage of his career, he has added two shots to the three he had previously possessed. Incredibly, one of these is the reverse sweep, which, say, Virat Kohli is not known to play. Herath keeps stacking improbabilities in a career that is unlikely to begin with. I mean, who would guess that Brathwaite bowling to a fired-up Herath could ever come to be the juiciest contest of a Test-match day? Herath reverse-paddled him to the third man boundary twice in two overs before Brathwaite struck back.
"He played two reverse sweeps so I moved around the field a bit with a short third man," Brathwaite said. "My main thing was to keep it tight and to stick outside off stump as much as possible. He tried the sweep and top-edged it."
Brathwaite's chief ally was Jermaine Blackwood, who threw himself around to take four catches off him, and five in total. West Indies' catching had been woeful in Galle, but by the end of the day, Blackwood was moving so well, he could have pouched slip catches in his back pocket. The diving effort to dismiss last man Nuwan Pradeep was particularly memorable, and saved West Indies one, maybe two awkward Pradeep runs.
West Indies need 224 runs draw the series. The way they have been batting, this seems unlikely, but not impossible. It hasn't been difficult to spook Sri Lanka in recent times. A rapid Darren Bravo fifty, or a Marlon Samuels charge could still expose the hosts. They owe it to the delusion of a top-order batsman for keeping them in the match. Brathwaite, of course, maintains it is self-belief. Who is to tell where the line is?

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