What a week it has been for Sri Lankan cricket! Our first test victory on West Indian soil was the climax of five days of intense and often tense cricket, where we held our nerve to prove our superiority. And this achievement was made all the more memorable for me as I was able to contribute with both bat and ball. The wicket at the Providence Stadium in Guyana-rebuilt for last year s World Cup but of an unknown quantity in terms of test cricket-was an absolute featherbed and we knew bowlers were in for a hard time on this track. So, it was a good toss to win and we had no hesitation in deciding to bat first.
The batsmen continued the form they showed in the practice game. The opening partnership between Vandort and Warnapura set the pace. Warnapura especially batted extremely well for his century showing his determination to cement his place as an opener in the test squad. Mahela s innings of 136 which followed was a captain s knock and I was happy to contribute too with a fifty. I have been working a lot on my batting of late and I wanted to put my head down and play a long innings. A 126-run partnership with Mahela at the other end was just perfect to set us up for a declaration.
The Windies, when they batted failed to show the kind of application required on this track, losing wickets at regular intervals. For us, newcomer Thilan Thushara was impressive and seems to be a promising prospect to emerge from our current crop of up and coming fast bowlers. Sri Lanka has unearthed several pacemen in the recent past: Lasith Malinga, Farveez Maharoof, Chanaka Welagedera, Nuwan Kulasekera and Ishara Amerasinghe to name a few. Some have come through school cricket and some have been discovered in the domestic competition but this trend is more than welcome.
Our bowling coach Champaka Ramanayake had a hand in moulding them, fine tuning their skills. Now though, it is up to them to live up to expectations. It is no easy task as pacemen has to train hard and maintain peak fitness, if they want to perform at the highest levels for any length of time. When the West Indies ended day three at 269 for nine there was a lot of talk about the game being tantalisingly poised with the Windies needing another eight runs to make Sri Lanka bat again. The reality though, was quite different.
We had already decided to bat a second time because, bowling on that batting friendly track with just four bowlers to share the workload is back-breaking business and we couldn t have done that all over again at an optimal level. Our thinking was to bat again, go for quick runs, put up a target of 400 runs or more and leave the Windies four sessions-about 120 overs- to chase a target, giving us sufficient time to bowl them out. In the end, we declared at 240 for seven, setting them a target of 437 runs-which was a bonus.
At the end of day four the Windies were 96 for one in 23 overs and there was some speculation in the media that they would have a go at the target. In our dressing room though, we were not unduly worried. The ball was new and we knew that when it became older, the runs would dry up. Our strategy was to ensure this would happen which is why we persisted with Murali and Herath before lunch on the last day. Rangana in fact was the unsung hero of the game-he kept one end tied down superbly with the first 19 overs of the day costing only 32 runs. That ensured that a run chase by the Windies was simply not on and then it was up to us to get the initial breakthrough and then pick up the remaining wickets.
Much has been made about Windies skipper Gayle s decision to bat down the order because of my success against him where I have dismissed him seven times in six tests, five of them for ducks. It is somewhat similar to the success I have had against New Zealand s Stephen Fleming in one-dayers.
Gayle has been criticized in the Windies for that decision but I see nothing wrong with it. Dwayne Bravo was uncomfortable facing Murali early on, and Gayle was not happy encountering me first up, so they swapped places. Bravo scored 83 and Gayle was unbeaten 51, so the Windies skipper should be commended, not condemned!
After the Windies middle order batting failed to live up to expectations, their tail offered strong resistance with Gayle holding one end up admirably. The ball was old and hard and reversing, so we delayed taking the new ball. In fact, I wanted to continue with the older ball but after some time, Mahela decided otherwise and in the end, it was the new ball that did the trick. That decision showed Mahela s maturity as a captain-it is so easy to play under a skipper who is not only knowledgeable about the game but is also willing to take a bold decision.
Murali s stunning roll-over catch to dismiss Powell was a fitting end to the game, embodying the determination and skill we brought to the game. Despite our margin of victory it was a close call-the Windies only had to bat a few more overs and about fifteen minutes to save the game.
I was more than happy to pick up five for 61 and the man of the match award. I was part of Sri Lanka s first test win overseas at Napier against New Zealand in 1995 and took 10 for 90 in that game and was named man of the match there. To repeat that kind of performance after thirteen years is a great experience.
We have now arrived in Trinidad for the second test which begins on Thursday. Our practice game has been called off because of a suitable venue was not available, but the boys are enjoying a well deserved rest. We began training again only yesterday. We haven t had a look at the wicket in Trinidad yet, but it is expected to be a slow track as well that favours spin. On the down side, stumper Prasanna Jayewardene is down with a grade one hamstring injury and in all probability will not play the test.
Kumar will be back behind the stumps but that also allows us the luxury of playing an extra batsman or bowler, depending on the state of the wicket. Being one up in a two test series, we know we cannot lose the series from here. But we also know the Windies will be licking their wounds and will not like the prospect of being beaten in their own backyard. They will do their utmost to level the series and we cannot be complacent. But right now, we seem to be on top of our game and a series victory in the Windies is at the top of our shopping list.