Some of cricket’s finest captains have come to UAE and have returned empty handed. Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi were a fortress for Pakistan. Graeme Smith failed to win here; Michael Clarke failed to win here while Alastair Cook’s England were whitewashed 3-0. Pakistan’s unbeaten run here that had stood for seven years since UAE became their adopted home finally came to an end on Tuesday after a young Sri Lankan side captained by Dinesh Chandimal handed the hosts a 68 run defeat on the final day with two session to spare.

Read: Sangakkara hails Chandimal’s leadership

It was the first time that Pakistan had lost a home series in ten years.

It was an intriguing Test series with both matches going to the wire and such a pity that we do not have a third Test match. Well, the players, especially the Sri Lankans, wouldn’t mind, as the scorching heat here is a test of character, skill and patience.

Barring those series wins over Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka have recorded only six away series wins. This will be special as it was achieved under trying circumstances.

To start with, Sri Lanka were not at full strength. They missed their best batsman in Angelo Mathews, the reliable Asela Gunaratne and their number one choice wicketkeeper Kusal Janith Perera. On a separate note, given his consistent batting and flawless glove work, Niroshan Dickwella might as well cemented his place in the side.

The fast bowlers – Suranga Lakmal, Nuwan Pradeep and Lahiru Gamage did a commendable job under tough conditions. The main architects of the series win were captain Dinesh Chandimal, Dimuth Karunaratne, Rangana Herath, Dilruwan Perera and Dickwella.

Chandimal was outstanding in Abu Dhabi where he batted for over nine hours to complete a marathon 155. Dimuth Karunaratne in the second Test in Dubai did better than Chandimal batting for over nine and half hours to post a career best 196. Such a shame that he couldn’t complete a maiden double hundred. It would have been Sri Lanka’s first double hundred since Kumar Sangakkara’s knock in Wellington in January 2015 against the Kiwis.

Karunaratne in the last three months has been dismissed twice in 90s and once in 190s. That will be an area that he needs to work on. But given his form in the longer format of the game and given Sri Lanka’s inability to last 50 overs in the shorter format, he should have been retained for the ODIs. This year in Test cricket, Karunaratne has scored over 900 runs with three hundreds and three fifties and only South African Dean Elgar and Hashim Amla have scored more than him.

දිමුත්, දිල්රුවන්, චන්දිමාල් සහ හේරත් විජයග්‍රහණයට පසු දැක්වූ අදහස්

දිමුත්, දිල්රුවන්, චන්දිමාල් සහ හේරත් විජයග්‍රහණයට පසු දැක්වූ අදහස්

His good form is vital as it takes lot of pressure off the shoulders of Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal.

Dickwella is gradually emerging to be a match winner across all formats. He did score heaps of runs against the Indians, but the manner in which he got out left a bad taste in many mouths. He was spoken to apparently by the team management. The inclusion of Sadeera Samarawickrama perhaps was a bid to put pressure on Dickwella and the trick seemed to have worked.

With 16 wickets in the series, Rangana Herath was outstanding. He is neither a big turner of the ball nor has got several variations. He relies on accurate line and length and once he does that over after over, it’s a matter of patience between the batsmen and the bowler and often the latter wins. The other area that Herath has an edge over the batsmen is that he is able to outsmart the batsmen.

In Abu Dhabi, Hasan Ali had come up with some meaty blows in the first innings. In the second innings, with Sri Lanka defending a mere 136, Sri Lanka couldn’t afford to let Hasan get away with things. Herath realized that Hasan had a strong bottom hand as he cleared the boundary with some clean straight hits in the first essay. So he went over the wicket to the right-hander and pitched one outside leg. The batsman attempted a sweep shot – not his strong area – and was bowled around his legs. It was  a masterstroke. In basketball terms, it was like watching De La Salle College’s 1-3-1 full court trap.

When Dilruwan Perera dismissed last man Mohammad Abbas off a no ball with just 24 runs left, the Sri Lankans were cursing their luck. But the cricketing gods had decided that Herath should take the last wicket and with that complete 400 Test wickets. Wonder who writes his scripts?

Don’t take anything away from Dilruwan Perera. The Pakistanis came well prepared for Herath in the second Test and underestimated Perera. It is he who did the trick in the second Test finishing with eight wickets. In all he had 12 scalps in the series.

Perera had a poor series against India. Of course he was making lots of runs, but wasn’t doing the job required of the fourth bowler. He seemed to have worked on a few things and his off-spin was handy when Sri Lanka most needed it.

The Sri Lankans seemed to have learned their lessons. There was an opportunity to win a series in Sharjah in 2013.  With 1-0 up, Mathews opted to go for a draw and that backfired as Pakistan finished off a thrilling chase.

Here Chandimal took calculated risks. When Pakistan were reduced to 52 for five chasing 317 to win, the game was done and dusted. With a session still to go, many expected the game to end inside four days. But a softer ball and dew upset Sri Lanka’s plans. A record 176 run stand between Asad Shafiq and Sarfraz Ahmed was worrying.

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Pakistan started the final day needing 119 runs. Soon it was cut down to double figures. Chandimal kept the pressure on and the dismissal of Sarfraz just before the new ball was a short in the arm for the Sri Lankans. Once the new ball came, it was child’s play to the bowlers as Pakistan collapsed losing their last five wickets for 28 runs.

Watching Sri Lanka’s training these days is a breath of fresh air. There seems to be real purpose and the seniors are leading by example. Fielding – an aspect that had been long neglected – has received its due recognition. Chandimal’s mantra for success is – fitness, fielding and discipline. Three areas that were grossly neglected since Geoff Marsh was fired.

There were fewer errors in the field this time around. It was awesome to watch the fast bowlers putting in the dive. A 39-year-old Herath also doesn’t seem to want to be second best to anyone on the field.

Although the team management has kept its cards close to the chest, it is believed that minimum standard the players are expected to achieve in the yo-yo test is 17.5. This is where Mr. Dhanushka Gunathilaka cooked his goose we believe. Apparently in the current squad, only two players have achieved that minimum standard while all others are above 18. Nine are believed to be having a standard above 19. Pretty impressive. But long way to go though. Imagine what’s the best yo-yo standard in world cricket? Temba Bavuma and Francois du Plessis are both said to have raised the mark to 24. Better times are ahead. Remember! Sigiriya wasn’t built in one day!

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