Sixteen overs and two deliveries into the fourth day of the Caribbean’s first ever Day-Night Test, Dilruwan Perera lofted Man of the Match Jason Holder's delivery over mid-off to complete a well-deserved victory for Sri Lanka. Essentially, however, the match was won and hence lost, on the third day when, after gaining a significant 55-run lead, the Windies were rolled over for the paltry total of 93 runs. This meant Sri Lanka had to score 144 to win, a far from straightforward task given the context of the game, but a total that was substantially smaller than expected.
The victory was particularly impressive given the hardships the tourists faced: their captain and best batsman was suspended following his conviction for ball tampering; their most experienced player, Angelo Mathews returned home for the birth of his child after the first test; seamer Lahiru Gamage, who played in Trinidad, returned home due to injury; and leg spinner Jeffrey Vandersay was expelled from the tour for disciplinary reasons. It is a credit to them that they were able to overcome such setbacks.
They had their fair share of luck too. The Windies dropped a number of catches, and the bats of Kusal Perera -- who had spent some time in the hospital following an injury sustained after an advertising board collision while attempting a catch -- and Dilruwan Perera were regularly beaten by the Windies seamers as they went about their vital 63-run partnership.
In the main, however, Sri Lanka have its bowlers, and especially Suranga Lakmal to thank for its third Test win. Lakmal showed his substance throughout the series but seemed to have kept his best for the last. He bowled a fiery spell to start off the second innings and scalped three wickets in the first seven over. Lahiru Kumara bowled with the kind of fire we have now come to expect and Kasun Rajitha continued his good work from his debut Test in St. Lucia, but it was the Sri Lanka captain who initiated the Windies collapse.
Before you could blink, the home team were reduced to 3-9, making it the first time they’d lost three wickets before reaching double figures in both innings of a Test match. They never truly recovered and when they folded for a paltry total, Sri Lanka knew they had a good chance of squaring the series and retaining the Sobers-Tissera trophy.
The blame for the Windies’ loss has to be shouldered by the batsmen, especially its top order. In fact, except for Shane Dowrich and captain Jason Holder, the home team’s batsmen were poor the entire series. None of the top-five batsmen in the batting order averaged more than Kieran Powell’s 27.66, a very unsatisfactory state of affairs. All the three pitches in this series favoured the seam bowlers, but there were too many cases of a lack of application and technical acumen.
The Windies selectors controversially went back to Devon Smith after he made loads of runs in the regional first-class competition, outperforming all his competitors. It was right that he was granted another opportunity but the step up in competition revealed deficiencies that should now preclude him from future selection. To be sure, some of his flaws were previously known, such as his vulnerability to the off-spinner coming round the wicket, yet his heavy scoring must have prompted the selectors to wonder if he had somehow overcome those flaws.
Caribbean fans would also have been acutely disappointed with the performance of Shai Hope. His twin hundreds at Headingly last year, made under fairly difficult circumstances, should have marked his elevation to the ranks of the game’s elite batsmen. Since then, however, he has stepped down off that high pedestal and is now being numbered among the mediocre. His class is evident every time you see him drive through the covers or swivel to pull, but he desperately needs to improve his consistency level as questions are already being raised about his place in the side.
Save for Dinesh Chandimal and Kusal Mendis, the Sri Lankan batsmen really did not distinguish themselves. This was a series for the seamers, but like the West Indian batsmen, the Sri Lankans needed to have applied themselves much better than they managed to do.
The bowling was another matter. Lakmal continued along his recent upward trend and Rajitha did well in his first series. The real revelation, though, was Kumara. Most West Indian fans would not have seen him before, yet if he was an unknown quantity coming into the series he went out of it highly regarded by everyone who saw him. He matched Gabriel for pace, his direction was exemplary for most parts and he appeared to offer maximum effort every time he was summoned to bowl. He will not always operate in such helpful conditions, but the pace and aggression he displayed will make him a troublesome adversary, even in less helpful surroundings.
The bright spots for the Windies were the mature and skillful batting of Shane Dowrich, which earned him the Man of the Series award, the continued improvement of Gabriel and the all-round performance of captain Holder.
Dowrich scored 288 runs and averaged 57.6 in the series. He had shown only glimpses of his ability before, but this series he unveiled more patience, more judiciousness in his strokeplay and therefore produced runs more consistently. His wicketkeeping needs work but this series should mark a turning point for the Barbadian as a batsman.
Shannon Gabriel bowled with verve and control throughout. He was a constant threat to the opposition batsmen. It’s hard to believe that not that long ago there were many who thought, not without reason, that the burly Barbadian belonged nowhere near a Test match ground. His improvement is no doubt an indication of his assiduousness. No one would dare question his credentials now.
And now we come to Holder. The 6’7” fast bowler normally operates around the 78-82 mph, and probably because his height reminds us of Ambrose but you often wonder why he isn’t quicker. He regularly generates outswing, but it always seemed he was too short or too wide of off stump for it to be really effective. Well, in Barbados he made the necessary corrections and came away with career-best figures of 9/60. He gave a most remarkable display of away swing bowling and probably from now on, he should watch videos of his bowling from this game to prepare for all future outings. There are lessons there, not only for himself but for others like Miguel Cummins and Kemar Roach as well.
All in all, this was an entertaining series that did nothing to hurt the attractiveness of test cricket. It showed that the game is much more intriguing, much more worth watching when the bowlers are given a chance.