When it happened in Durban, it was dubbed a fluke. When it happened again at Port Elizabeth, it was historic but still deemed a one-off performance. At Galle, when Sri Lanka gunned down a target of 268 set by the Kiwis, there were monumental gasps. 100 or more had never been chased in the fourth innings at Galle in the 32 Test matches at the venue. And here was Sri Lanka chasing down 268 without even breaking a sweat.
One thing that’s for certain is that Sri Lanka have found an able leader in Dimuth Karunaratne. Since taking over the reins of the side, Karunaratne has led Sri Lanka to a hat-trick of Test wins to bury the miseries of the last couple of years.
In the World Cup, he buoyed his men to play out of their skins and a win over eventual World Cup winners, England, and a competitive show in the tournament as whole is evidence of progress in the Island Nation.
Progress is a tricky word for Sri Lanka. They had been rapidly going downhill in the years post the retirements of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. Add in the retirement of that giant at home, Rangana Herath, and you get a gist of how Sri Lanka were suddenly deprived of strengths in each department.
The turnaround came slowly but assuredly once Chandika Hathurusinga took over as head coach. With an unabashed approach, the head coach had tilted Bangladesh’s game and he took the same approach in Sri Lanka.
Non-performers were dropped. Injuries weren’t excused and performance and current form became priorities. They didn’t carry Akila Dananjaya to the World Cup despite the spinner being the top wicket taker in the year before that in ODIs for them. The reason? A corrected action which wasn’t proving good enough in the short period it was tested. They didn’t carry Niroshan Dickwella either owing to current form.
Selection continues to be a muddle but the bigger picture that Hathurusinga was trying to convey was that non-performance wasn’t an option. Karunaratne led from the front and the others followed. But at Galle, Lanka broke a lot more records and set a template of batting in the fourth innings of a Test match. A stat summary of Lanka’s recent form gives a better idea of their Test match performance.
1 – Since taking over at Durban, Karunaratne has scored just one hundred in Test cricket but it came at an important time – in a run-chase of 268 at Galle in the fourth innings of a Test match.
3 – Only three Sri Lankan openers have scored fourth innings hundreds in Tests. Kusal Mendis and Sanath Jayasuriya (twice) were the others to do it before Karunaratne.
3 – There have been five run-chases of 250 or more in the fourth innings of Test matches since 2015. Three of those are by Sri Lanka – 391/6 against Zimbabwe, 304/9 against South Africa and 268/4 versus New Zealand.
3 – Karunaratne has three scores of 50 or more at Galle in the fourth innings of Test matches. His scores read 60*, 97, 26 and 122. Karunaratne averages 101.67 at the venue in the 4th innings. In all, he averages 38.5 in the fourth innings of Test matches.
3 – Sri Lanka have won just three Test matches in their last 10 Tests. There are six losses and one drawn Test but they will be buoyed by the fact that the wins have all come in the last three Tests.
25 – The last 25 Tests in Sri Lanka have all produced results. The last drawn Test here dates back to July 2014.