Retiring Mahela Jayawardene took on the unusual role of opening batsman to hand Sri Lanka a thrilling seven-wicket victory on the final day of the first Test against Pakistan in Galle on Sunday.
The hosts, needing 99 to win in a minimum of 21 overs, beat fading light and approaching rain to cruise home in the 17th over in front of some 5,000 jubilant home fans.
Jayawardene, who is due to retire from Test cricket after the two-match series, scored 26 before Kumar Sangakkara (21) and captain Angelo Mathews (25 not out) chipped in lower down the order.
Mathews and Kithuruwan Vithanage smashed 17 runs in the 16th over bowled by Junaid Khan and then scored the winning run in the next over just before rain hit Galle.
The win was set up by left-arm spinner Rangana Herath, who claimed six for 48 that bundled Pakistan out for 180 in their second innings in the post-tea session.
“It was one of the best games I have been part of,” said Mathews.
“I was praying for a bit of sunshine and the rain staying away for some more time, but we managed to get through in the end.”
Mathews attributed the win to Sangakkara’s 221 in the first innings and Herath’s six wickets earlier on Sunday, and hoped they would also win the final Test to give Jayawardene a perfect farewell.
“Sangakkara is such a great player and Herath was unbelievable,” he said. “We want to focus on the next game and win it for Mahela, who is such an unbelievable player.”
Pakistan captain Misbah-ul Haq rued the missed chances on the field, but admitted Sri Lanka were deserving winners.
“Dropped catches cost us badly, especially the one off Sangakkara,” said Misbah, referring to the chance spilled at point by Abdur Rehman off the first ball of the fourth day when the batsman was on 102.
“Also our batting in the second innings could have been better. This was too good a wicket to get bowled out for 180. But the better team won. We must forget this game and get ready for the next one.”
Pakistan started the day at 4-1 and ended up scoring 180 runs to give Sri Lanka a mere 99-run target to chase.
The second and final Test will be played at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo from Thursday, August 14.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th, 2014.
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