Dickwella, Gunaratne guide Sri Lanka to victory

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Fifth successful run chase in history and highest in Asia :

Niroshan Dickwella and Asela Gunaratne fashioned out a well deserving four-wicket win for Sri Lanka in the one-off Test against Zimbabwe as they chased down 388 in the fourth innings of Test on the fifth and final day at the R Premadasa Stadium yesterday.

Sri Lanka who resumed the final day at 170-3 and needing a further 218 to win finished on 391-6 with Gunaratne playing the role of sheet anchor despite being handicapped by a left hamstring injury (that prevented him from bowling in the Zimbabwe second innings) to remain not out on 80 scored off 151 balls with six fours.

Gunaratne figured in two crucial stands that took the game away from Zimbabwe after the visitors had reduced Sri Lanka to 203-5 within the first hour’s play by sending back the two overnight batsmen Kusal Mendis for 66 and former skipper Angelo Mathews for 25 – both falling to the leg-spin of Graeme Cremer.

At that stage Zimbabwe would have fancied their chances of running through the rest of the Lankan batting with Cremer getting the odd ball to spite and turn viciously whenever it hit the bowlers’ rough.

However Gunaratne joined Niroshan Dickwella in a partnership of match winning proportions adding 121 runs for the sixth wicket and after Dickwella’s departure for a well constructed 81 off 118 balls (6 fours), Dilruwan Perera (29 not out) made certain that Sri Lanka did not lose any more wickets by figuring in an unbroken stand of 67 with Gunaratne to seal the match in Sri Lanka’s favour.

It was the fifth highest successful run chase in Test history and the highest in Asia. In Sri Lanka it was the highest successful run chase after 377 by Pakistan at Pallekele in 2015 and 352 by Sri Lanka against South Africa at the P Sara Oval in 2006.

It was not an easy chase by any standards although Sri Lanka was playing the lowest ranked Test team in the world. Zimbabwe had till the final day kept their options open of pulling off a maiden Test win against Sri Lanka having shown great resolve and fight to take the game right into the final day – something that Zimbabwe sides had not done in the recent past.

Zimbabwe could consider themselves somewhat unlucky when a stumping chance against Dickwella when he was on 37 went against them. There will always be a debate on that decision. Chakabva, the wicket-keeper whipped the bails off when Dickwella missed a ball from Sikandar Raza.

The field umpires went upstairs and referred it to the third umpire Chettihody Shamshuddin of India who ruled it as not out after going through several replays. Dickwella’s foot to all appearances looked to be planted on the line and not behind it, in which instance he should have been given out.

To add to that disappointment Chikabva also spilt edges from Dickwella at 63 and from Perera at 13 both off the unfortunate Sean Williams who along with his captain Cremer send down a marathon 154.2 of the 217.2 overs bowled by Zimbabwe bowlers in the match.

One had to question the over reliance on the spinners by Cremer when he had two other specialist fast bowlers in the line-up. Donald Tiripano was never given a bowl in the second innings and Chris Mpofu sent down just six overs. Zimbabwe clearly showed their inexperience at this level not having the opportunity to play consistently and some of Cremer’s field placing was questionable.

Credit should be given to the curator of the R Premadasa Stadium Asanga Herath and his team for preparing a splendid pitch that produced some remarkable and challenging cricket throughout the five days. The pitch here is renowned for being a batsman’s paradise but on this occasion although each of the four innings produced totals of 300 plus it also gave a fair chance to the spinners with Rangana Herath bagging 11 wickets and Cremer nine. The R Premadasa Stadium is not renowned to host Test matches but in the nine they have it has produced the highest Test score of all time – 952-6 as well as the highest successful run chase in Asia – 388.

Gunaratne was named Man of the Match and surprisingly a Man of the Series was also presented when only a one-off Test was played. It was given to Rangana Herath.

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