Winners and Losers from Sri Lanka vs. Pakistan 1st Test in Galle
After four days of bowlers toiling away and some of the world's leading batsman filling their boots on a flat track in Galle, Sri Lanka, the First Test between Sri Lanka and Pakistan burst into life in an engrossing final day.
As Pakistan's batting crumbled, a fascinating day of cricket ended with a manic run chase, with all eyes facing skies that were grey and threatening to take the conclusion out of the hands of the Sri Lankan batsmen scenting victory.
In the end, Sri Lanka perfectly timed their run chase, reaching the target of 99 well inside the remaining 21 overs in a blitz of boundaries from Angelo Mathews and Kithuruwan Vithanage, just minutes before the clouds burst open and soaked Galle in the rain that had threatened to ruin the victory parade.
There were a number of notable performances that stood out, with Kumar Sangakkara and Younis Khan reminding everyone of their class, while spinners Saeed Ajmal and Rangana Herath had contrasting fortunes despite matching, five-wicket hauls.
As the dust settles on this remarkable Test, let's take a look at some of the winners and losers from the First Test in Galle.
All statistics from ESPN Cricinfo.
Winners: Veteran Batsmen
This was a Test where experience in the batting ranks shone through in the first innings, with the three veteran batsman across the two sides—Khan, Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene—all making runs.
Most Test 100s in Asia 33 Tendulkar 30 Sangakkara 28 Jayawardene 22 Dravid 19 Gavaskar/Younus Khan 18 Sehwag #SLvPak
— Mohandas Menon (@mohanstatsman) August 8, 2014
Spin bowler Herath is the only other player on either side with more than 50 Test caps, and the way this trio batted in the first innings it was easy to see how they had managed 365 Tests between them. After Pakistan found themselves in a spot of bother at 19/2 on the first morning, Khan drew on the experience of all his 90 Test matches to drag his side through a difficult morning.
After Azhar Ali fell with the score on 56, Kahn found able support from skipper Misbah-ul-Haq for a stand of 100 that steadied the ship, as well as excellent support from the lower order, with each batsman from No. 6 to No. 8 making fifty as Kahn effortlessly compiled 177, his 23rd Test century.
It was a familiar story when Sri Lanka came in to bat. The evergreen Sangakkara strode out in the fifth over to stroke his 36th hundred in 127 Tests, eventually reaching his 10th double hundred, and Jayawardene, veteran of 148 Tests, kept him company in a century partnership with a typically cultured 59.
Winners: Rangana Herath
Filling the shoes of Muttiah Muralitharan was never going to be easy, but Rangana Herath has done an excellent job. He turned in a match-winning display in Galle to rip through the Pakistan batting in the second innings, taking 6/48 to set up a thrilling run chase.
Playing alongside the great Muralitharan, Herath managed 71 wickets in 22 Tests spanning 11 years at 37.88 apiece. Since Muralitharan bowed out in July 2010, the slow left-arm bowler has stepped up his game considerably, enjoying the mantle of first-choice spinner to the tune of 175 wickets in 34 Tests at an average of 26.75. Galle in particular has been a happy hunting ground.
Rangana Herath wins his 6th match awards in Tests - four of those he won at Galle. #SLvPak
— Cricket Record (@cricinfo_record) August 10, 2014
Having taken key wickets of Ul-Haq and Asad Shafiq in the first innings to break consecutive century partnerships with Khan, Herath came to the fore in a big way after being tasked with opening the bowling by enterprising skipper Mathews.
In his second over, the third of the innings, Herath had Khurram Manzoor caught behind to get the ball rolling. He later spun one through the defence of Khan to really get the Sri Lankans believing, and when a vicious ball spat out of the rough to take Ali's edge, Pakistan were tottering on 111/5.
Shafiq would follow before consecutive overs saw him wrap up the innings with the wickets of Mohammad Talha and Khan, setting up a victory that seemed wholly improbable at the start of the day.
Winners: Sarfraz Ahmed
Despite finishing on the losing side, the match was a personal triumph for Pakistan's wicketkeeper-batsman Sarfraz Ahmed.
Playing only his seventh Test and having passed fifty just once before, in Pakistan's home series against Sri Lanka earlier this year, he will have taken plenty of confidence from compiling a half century in each innings.
In the first knock he played second fiddle to centurion Khan in a partnership worth 66, and after going on to reach his half century will have been disappointed to get out shortly after smacking Dilruwan Perera straight down the throat of Mathews.
Far more impressive was his second-innings contribution, a composed and unbeaten 52 as his teammates lost heads and wickets all around him.
Sign of a good cricketer is to keep a calm head when your team are losing theirs. Sarfraz Ahmed is doing a great job for Pakistan. #SLvPAK
— Alternative Cricket (@AltCricket) August 10, 2014
Though he was no doubt disappointed that his efforts proved in vain, a batting performance suggesting for the first time that he might belong at this level is a notable boon for Pakistan.
Losers: Pakistan's Openers
With Pakistan's batting succumbing meekly on Day 5, questions will be asked of their top six in particular, and the majority of those questions will focus around the opening pair of Manzoor and Ahmed Shehzad, who failed to provide any kind of foundation to either innings.
— ESPNcricinfo (@ESPNcricinfo) August 6, 2014
It was a disappointing Test for the pair of openers looking to establish themselves at the top of the order, with just 26 runs in total coming from their four visits to the crease.
The more experienced Manzoor, playing in his 15th Test, was the more culpable of the two, making three in each innings and lasting just 32 balls. This is symptomatic of his brief Test career, where he has a tendency to be dismissed early in his innings.
Half of his 28 innings have seen him out for a single-figure score, most notably in Dubai last October when he completed a pair against South Africa. Yet on eight of the 14 occasions he has made double figures, he has gone on to register a half century, converting once to make a century. There is obvious ability there if he can overcome weaknesses early in his innings, but pressure is mounting quickly.
More time will be afforded to Shehzad, playing only his fourth Test in Galle, and he at least showed some gumption in batting for nearly two hours for his 16 second-innings runs, with preservation the name of the game. Having made 147 in his previous Test against the same opposition, he will hope this Test was just a blip in his progress.
Both openers have potential, but Pakistan will be vulnerable at the start of innings and find themselves on the back foot far too early, far too often unless one of both can start fulfilling it.
Losers: Saeed Ajmal
On the face of it, declaring Ajmal one of the games losers after taking a five-for on a pitch offering little help might seem harsh. But the reality is that he was out-bowled by the less celebrated Herath and, unlike his opposite number, took his wickets only once the damage was already done.
Indeed, it was surprising to hear his captain, Ul-Haq, declare "Ajmal was also a positive sign" in the postgame interviews, albeit he can probably be forgiven for clutching at straws after his side's dreadful capitulation.
Though economical, going at less than three an over from 59.1 overs, Ajmal failed to offer any penetration until far too late in the Sri Lankan innings.
When he took his first wicket, that of Mathews for 91, the scorecard read 438/4, Sangakkara was 13 runs shy of a double-hundred, and Sri Lanka's overhauling of Pakistan's first innings total was imminent with six wickets still in hand.
Ajmal recovered well to dismiss Sri Lanka's No. 6, No. 7 and No. 8 batsmen for five runs each in the space of five overs, but it was very much a case of shutting the barn door once the horse has bolted.
In particular, Ajmal has found it difficult to stem the flow of runs from the bat of Sangakkara, though admittedly he is far from alone in this regard. But it is notable that Sangakkara played him with relative ease, something he attributes to his experience of keeping wicket to Muralitharan, as reported by Andrew Fidel Fernando on Cricinfo:
1072 - Since his Test debut in 2009, S. Ajmal has bowled 1072 balls to Sangakkara, most in a batsman-bowler combination in this time. Foe.
— OptaJim (@OptaJim) August 8, 2014
The same Cricinfo article reports that Sangakkara averages 167 runs for each of his three dismissals to Ajmal in 13 Tests. If Pakistan are going to work their way back into the series, they will need their premier spin bowler to find a way through the defences of Sangakarra and his top-order colleagues.
Cheap lower-order wickets, collected readily at Galle, will not suffice.
Though Ajmal failed to have the influence he would have liked in Galle, his very presence there contributed to Worcestershire Rapids emerging as losers in their quest for T20 glory.
With Ajmal on international duty, his Worcestershire colleagues had to go without their star man in a Natwest T20 Blast quarter-final that Ajmal had played a significant part in helping them reach.
Worcestershire were hoping to reach Finals Day for the first time as one of only two counties, along with Derbyshire, to have never made it to the semi-finals stage. But as Ajmal was warming up for the Test in Galle, Worcestershire were being flayed around the Kennington Oval by the irrepressible Jason Roy.
In the group stages of the T20 Blast, Ajmal took 12 wickets for Worcestershire Rapids at an average of 19.75 and an economy rate of 6.07. His economy bettered all of his colleagues who played more than three games, and only four bowlers who played 10 games or more in the entire competition went at fewer runs per over.
How Worcestershire could have done with Ajmal when Roy teed off in pursuit of their 142-victory target. By the time they turned to the slow left arm of Shaaiq Choudhry in the sixth over, Roy was gone but had already blasted 52 from just 23 balls as Surrey made nearly half their target in just a quarter of their overs.
Surrey 64-1 (5) and Jason Roy has a fifty. This is turning into a bit of a thumping. #COYP
— Pears Online (@WCCC_Pears) August 2, 2014
If anyone had a chance of stopping him in his tracks, Ajmal would have been a good bet, and had he not been toiling away in Galle, skipper Daryl Mitchell would surely have tossed him the ball before the damage was done.