Yesterday at the Galle International Stadium venue of the first cricket Test against New Zealand, the Sri Lanka Test captain scored a match-winning century, his ninth in Test cricket to steer his team to a comprehensive six-wicket win and a 1-0 lead in the two-Test series.
The result of the match was never in doubt once Karunaratne with the help of his opening partner Lahiru Thirimanne had put together a stand of 161 off 302 balls that knocked the wind out of the Black Caps’ sails.
Thus a winning target of 268 was made to look pretty small once that partnership was established. However on a fifth day pitch with the ball not really coming onto the bat it was not going to be easy scoring the rest of the runs and the Black Caps must have fancied their chances when they broke the opening partnership with William Somerville successfully reviewing an lbw appeal against Thirimanne who was trapped on the sweep shot for 64 scored off 163 balls (4 fours).
As in the first innings the loss of one wicket was followed by a flurry of wickets as both the Kusal’s – Mendis (10) and Perera (23) played cameo knocks of 10 off six balls and 23 off 19 before perishing.
Karunaratne defended the manner of their approach when he said, “The new batsman would find it difficult as the ball would turn a lot. The important thing was to bat with confidence. That’s what I told Kusal Mendis. When you play a couple of shots, the bowler also adjusts the field and suddenly the singles become available and the pressure is released.
“I had given the players the freedom to play their shots. We have seen how some of them bat in the nets. We bat on worse wickets; it’s all in the mind. That’s the best advice I give and I don’t take anyone to task for getting out by playing a shot. Today was a good example the way Kusal Perera scored those shots as we got closer. So did Mendis and even I felt relieved.”
Karunaratne’s marathon innings finally ended after 311 minutes and 243 balls at the crease for 122 when he edged Tim Southee behind the wicket to BJ Watling. Sri Lanka at that stage still required 50 runs for victory.
However the cool and calmness of former captain Angelo Mathews (28 n.o.) in the company of Dhananjaya de Silva (14 n.o.) saw Sri Lanka home in a much extended morning session to put an end to the match instead of breaking off for lunch and then returning for a few minutes to go through the formalities of finishing the Test.
Sri Lanka resumed the fifth and final day at 133 for no loss requiring a further 135 runs for victory, but any hopes of achieving an early breakthrough by the New Zealand bowlers was blunted by the opening pair who batted with resoluteness and determination to see their side home.
Sri Lanka’s target of 268 is the highest successful run chase achieved by a team at Galle the previous highest being 99 by Sri Lanka against Pakistan in 2014.
New Zealand would have rued the two chances (a catch and a stumping) they missed on the fourth day when Karunaratne was on 58. Had one of them been taken one could never say which way the Test would have gone.
Karunaratne who was named Man of the Match became only the third Sri Lankan opener to score a fourth innings Test hundred.
The previous two were Sanath Jayasuriya (twice) and Kusal Mendis.
Sri Lanka picked up 60 points from this win and go top of the ICC World Test Championship table.
New Zealand’s defeat meant that both World Cup finalists lost their opening matches of the World Test Championship. Last week England were beaten by Australia by 251 runs in the first Test at Edgbaston.
The second Test commences on August 22 at the P Sara Oval.