Dimuth Karunaratne played a big part in preserving his perfect record as Test captain as Sri Lanka brought up their third consecutive win since he took over, brushing New Zealand aside with a six-wicket win on the fifth day and picking up the full 60 points in their first World Test Championship match. In the process, Karunaratne also brought up his first century in 23 innings and his ninth overall as the hosts bested the previous record chase in Galle – 99 – by some distance.
Karunaratne came out just as positively as he had in the last session of the fourth day, adopting a simple strategy of working the spinners square on either side, off both front and back foot. In scoring 122, Karunaratne hit only six fours and a six, which belied his overall approach to prioritise a brisk scoring rate. To that end, he stepped out early in the day for a delightful flick off Ajaz Patel for a boundary, and then launched the left-arm spinner over the midwicket boundary four overs later to bring up the 150 stand for the opening wicket with Lahiru Thirimanne.
Between those two shots, though, were glimpses of the occasionally turbulent theme of his innings. Karunaratne had survived a stumping chance, and at least two legitimate catching chances on the fourth day. Shortly after that flick off Patel, he got a thick outside edge on the cut – a shot that he couldn’t quite control all innings long – that snuck through for a four, and was then dropped by Tom Latham at short leg. It was Latham’s third drop of the innings in that position.
That set the tone early in the day, and with every over of nudging and manipulating the field for singles, New Zealand’s resolve was visibly diminishing. Any hope came through Sri Lanka’s misadventures.
Thirimanne, ever under scrutiny as a Test player, batted with composure and control throughout the innings in one of Sri Lanka’s most prolific fourth-innings opening stands of all time. If he showed any shakiness during the innings, it was when he swept, and that was the shot that led to his dismissal, Will Somerville getting his man on the review. The opening stand was worth 161.
In keeping with the pattern of his short career, Kusal Mendis managed to fit in both exquisite strokeplay and a frustrating surrender in an innings of six balls. With a solid platform laid and the opponents on the mat, his plan seemed to be to attack relentlessly, and this resulted in two pristine shots off Somerville – down the track quickly, using the spin to lift one over midwicket and the other over the long-on boundary. But the daring was short-lived when he swept Patel to midwicket next over, offering New Zealand some optimism with 94 runs to still get.
But the arrival of Angelo Mathews brought the calm it always has, and the veteran settled immediately into the role Thirimanne played for Karunaratne. New Zealand were switching bowlers fast, with Kane Williamson even trying himself for the first time in the Test, but the 44-run stand between the senior-most batsmen put Sri Lanka on the doorstep of victory.
Karunaratne did eventually nick behind trying to chop outside off stump, in a rare Tim Southee over. But coming in next was Kusal Perera, the architect of Sri Lanka’s miracle chase against South Africa earlier this year. He had no issues slashing deliveries off that line – or dragging them to the leg side – and came out with what looked like the sole intention to finish the chase before lunch.
With his boundaries, he forced a four-over extension with 22 runs to get, but fell shortly after for 19-ball 23. Mathews and Dhananjaya de Silva didn’t manage to get the runs in that period, but with only six runs to get, the umpires deemed it fit to give Sri Lanka another extension and the chase was sealed with a Mathews flick to fine, seven balls later. The second and final Test begins in Colombo on Thursday.—Agencies