Sri Lanka have had a pretty abysmal 2017 on the cricket field. The team’s record this year across formats is in fact one of the worst records for a Test playing nation in the recent past.
The Lions began their year suffering a 282-run thrashing at the hands of South Africa in the Cape Town Test and ended the year with a closer 5 wicket loss to India in Mumbai. In between the two games, the team reached all-time lows, losing a Test to Bangladesh and an ODI series to Zimbabwe for the 1st time in history, both at home. Added to this the team also suffered a 12-match losing streak in ODI cricket later in the year.
Despite the dismal picture the overall stats paint, there have been a few bright sparks during what was largely a tumultuous year for the Lions.
1. T20I series win vs South Africa in South Africa (January 2017)
The 1st game of the series was reduced to a 10 over affair due to rain and the proteas extended their domination over the visitors with, what was in the end, a comfortable 19-run win. Sri Lanka stormed back in the 2nd T20I, against all odds, restricting the home team to 113 at Johannesburg, with most pleasingly Nuwan Kulasekara at his measly best, giving away 10 runs for 2 wickets in his 3 overs. Lungi Ngidi threatened to turn the tables on Sri Lanka but a measured 54 from Captain Angelo Mathews saw Sri Lanka home with 3 wickets and 2 balls remaining.
Sri Lanka created history in the next game in what was a much more satisfying win, chasing down 170 with 5 wickets in hand, on the back of an enterprising 68 by Niroshan Dickwella and a 16 ball 37 from Seekkuge Prasanna.
2. Asela Gunaratne 84* vs Australia, Geelong (February 2017)
‘The Miracle in Geelong’ is what it was called and what an outrageous win it was for Sri Lanka. Asela Gunaratne, who had already spearheaded a tense chase in the 1st T20I against the Aussies to give Sri Lanka a 1-0 lead in the 3-match series, played what can only be described as one of the best limited overs knocks you’ll ever see as Sri Lanka chased down 173 to take the series with a game to spare. With 48 needed in the last 3 overs and only 3 wickets in hand, Gunaratne smashed 39 off the 12 balls he faced from that point to seal a truly memorable win.
3. Kusal Mendis 194 vs Bangladesh, Galle (March 2017)
Kusal Mendis has been hailed as Sri Lanka’s next big thing. Despite finding himself out of the team during the latter part of the year, Mendis produced one of his best knocks in the 1st Test against Bangladesh. Sri Lanka came into the series never having lost a Test to Bangladesh and asserted their dominance on a flat, dry Galle track. Mendis’ 194 set the game up perfectly for veteran Rangana Herath to do the 4th innings honours and Sri Lanka ran out winners by 259 runs.
Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, the rest of the tour did not go to plan as they lost the 2nd Test and drew both the ODI and T20I series against the Tigers.
4. Sri Lanka chase 322 vs India, Champions Trophy, London (June 2017)
After losses to Scotland, Australia and New Zealand in the run up to the Champions Trophy and a 96-run thumping at the hands of South Africa in their 1st game of the tournament, Sri Lanka’s hopes of better luck seemed a futile wish as they came up against tournament favorites India.
True to form, the batting giants posted a formidable 321 with the bat, setting, what seemed at the time, a total Sri Lanka would be hard pressed to chase down.
The early wicket of Niroshan Dickwella did not deter the Lions as Danushka Gunathilake and Kusal Mendis put on 159 for the 2nd wicket to keep Sri Lanka in the chase. Half centuries for the pair and Angelo Mathews, along with a valuable 47 from Kusal Janith Perera and 34 from Asela Gunaratne saw Sri Lanka home with 8 deliveries to spare in the highest-successful chase in the tournament’s history.
Sri Lanka’s euphoria at beating big brother India was short-lived as they crashed out of the tournament after a poor performance against Pakistan in the next game.
5. Sri Lanka chase 388 vs Zimbabwe, Colombo (July 2017)
A disappointing and perhaps even humiliating 2-3 defeat at the hands of Zimbabwe in the ODI series was truly an all-time low for the Lankans. The only Test seemed to be heading the same way when Sri Lanka were set a target of 388 on the back of some gritty performances from Craig Ervine, Sikandar Raza and Captain Graeme Cremer.
Zimbabwe had never beaten Sri Lanka in Tests before but with the hosts having to chase what would be a record target in the Island, things were shaping up well for the visitors.
However, a 121-run stand for the 6th wicket between Niroshan Dickwella and Asela Gunaratne ensured that Sri Lanka got home with their pride intact as the pair spearheaded the record chase. It was Gunaratne’s cool demeanor that ultimately proved to be the difference on the final day which saw a few missed opportunities and a somewhat controversial stumping call that could potentially have turned things around in Zimbabwe’s favour.
6. Akila Dananjaya 6/54 vs India, Kandy (August 2017)
A day after his wedding, 23-year-old Akila Dhananjaya brought one of the most formidable limited overs batting lineups to their knees with a performance reminiscent of Ajantha Mendis’ Asia Cup heroics in 2008.
Chasing 231 in a game interrupted briefly by rain, India were well on their way to another dominant win, with openers Rohit Sharma and Shikar Dhawan putting on 100 in the 1st 15 overs. Dananjaya trapped Sharma in front for 54 and then sent Kedhar Jadhav, Virat Kohli, KL Rahul, Hardik Pandya and Axar Patel back into the pavilion as India slumped to 131/7 from 109-1.
Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, a masterful innings by MS Dhoni took India through to their target but Dananjaya’s performance will not soon be forgotten.
7. Test series win vs Pakistan, UAE (September/October 2017)
After the home series against India, where Sri Lanka lost 9-0 across formats, the visitors really did not have anything to lose when they travelled to the United Arab Emirates for a series against Pakistan, who hadn’t lost a Test series in the UAE thus far.
A ton by Skipper Dinesh Chandimal set up Sri Lanka perfectly in the 1st innings of the 1st Test however Sri Lanka crashed to 138 all out in the 2nd innings to leave the hosts a seemingly easy target of 136 to take a 1-0 lead in the series. The stage was set for the king of the 4th innings, Rangana Herath and boy, did he deliver. With his 6/43 on the final day, Herath further established himself as one of the greatest defenders of a total in Test cricket as Pakistan fell 21 short; Herath also went on to claim his 400th Test wicket in the game.
The 2nd Test followed a similar trend with Sri Lanka’s batting firing in the 1st innings and falling apart in the 2nd. However, this time, the bowlers did the job for the team in both the 1st and 2nd innings, as Sri Lanka claimed a 68-run win. Notable performances came from Dimuth Karunaratne, who made 196 in the 1st innings and Dilruwan Perera who claimed a match bag of 8 for 170.
8. Suranga Lakmal 4/26 vs India, Kolkata (November 2017)
Sri Lankan fans were prepared for a 3-0 bashing but the very 1st day of the away Test series against India seemed to indicate that the tides had turned. Suranga Lakmal got the ball to move consistently in helpful conditions and dismissed KL Rahul with the 1st delivery of the game. When stumps were drawn on day 1 due to bad light, only 11 overs had been possible but during that period Lakmal claimed 3 wickets without conceding a run in his 6 overs. He ended up with 4/26 as India were restricted 172 in their 1st innings.
Sri Lanka nearly put all his efforts to waste, stuttering to 75/7 chasing 231 on the final day, but managed to cling on for a draw.
9. Dhananjaya De Silva 119 vs India, Delhi (December 2017)
Facing a target of 410 and with many of its players feeling ill due to the conditions in Delhi, Sri Lanka were not given much of a chance in the 3rd Test against India, despite the pitch being somewhat flat.
Having seen the manner in which Dhananjaya De Silva played in the 1st innings of the Test, no one would have expected him to lead Sri Lanka’s charge in the 2nd innings. However, a characteristically refreshing, crisp innings by the right hander brought memories of his excellent run against Australia in 2016 and ensured that Sri Lanka defied the odds and ended the Test series on 1-0, a better result than one had expected before the tour. What made the innings even sweeter was the fact that the youngster had been written off by one and all.
10. Suranga Lakmal 4/13 vs India, Dharamsala (December 2017)
Suranga Lakmal will remember the latter part of 2017 as the time he truly came of age. Deliveries that beat the bat were now finding edges and those edges were now being caught and lo and behold Lakmal was suddenly humbling one of the best batting line-ups in the game.
The performance in the 1st ODI was all the more important as it came at a time when Sri Lanka were on a 12-match losing streak in ODI cricket. With a win in Dharamsala, not only did Sri Lanka end the streak but they also brought India to their knees in what was expected to be a one-sided affair. His 4/13 helped the visitors restrict India to just 112 and Sri Lanka cantered home with 7 wickets to spare to take a 0-1 lead in the 3 match ODI series which they eventually lost 2-1.
11. Upul Tharanga 119 vs South Africa, Cape Town (February 2017)
Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, things didn’t quite go to plan after their 1st ever T20I series win over the Proteas. The ODI series proved to be a sign of what was to come as the Lions were trounced 5-0, the 1st of three such defeats during the year. After losing the 1st three games by 8 wickets, 121 runs and 7 wickets respectively, the Proteas looked to go 4-0 up, posting 367 on a flat track in Cape Town. However, a blistering 139 run partnership between Upul Tharanga and Niroshan Dickwella in just 16 overs put Sri Lanka in the hunt for an unlikely win. For Tharanga fans it was a night to savour as the left hander’s timing was back to its silky-smooth best. Unfortunately, his dismissal in the 30th over spelled the end for Sri Lanka as they ended up losing by 40 runs and went on to finish the series winless.
12. Kusal Mendis – Dimuth Karunaratne 191 run partnership vs India, Colombo (August 2017)
After laboring to beat a touring Zimbabwean side, Sri Lanka was expected to struggle against India, however, nobody quite foresaw how much they would struggle. A truly toothless performance in the 3 match Test series saw the hosts lose by 304 runs, an innings and 53 runs and an innings and 171 runs.
Despite all this, Sri Lanka did enjoy one glorious day of competition when opener Dimuth Karunaratne and youngster Kusal Mendis kept the Indian bowlers at bay to 50+ overs, putting on 191 runs for the 2nd wicket. Karunaratne, who had a stellar 2017, notched up his 6th Test ton while Mendis’ classy 110 was his 3rd battling century in Test cricket, giving Sri Lanka some respite in what turned out to be a pretty disappointing series.
13. Angelo Mathews 111 vs India, Delhi (December 2017)
The Delhi smog had dominated headlines the previous day, but day 2 and 3 saw Sri Lanka refuse to fold as Skipper Dinesh Chandimal and Angelo Mathews put on 181 runs for the 4th wicket. Chandimal continued his good 2017, but for Mathews, his 111 was his 1st ton in over 2 years. Given the additional responsibility of batting at no. 4, Mathews mustered all his skill and experience to keep Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin at bay as Sri Lanka posted 373 in their 1st innings.
A brilliant Dhananjaya De Silva ton, mentioned above, would eventually help Sri Lanka to a draw on day 5 as the series ended 1-0.
14. Roshen Silva 74 vs India, Delhi (December 2017)
Roshen Silva had been made to wait and wait and wait some more for his international debut and he finally made it in the 3rd Test against India. The odds could not have been stacked higher against him when he walked into bat at no. 7 on the final day of the Delhi Test. He’d been dismissed for a 3-ball duck in 1st innings and was now coming in to bat with Sri Lanka sliding towards a defeat, having to face two of the top ranked spinners in the world, in spin-friendly conditions, at home.
Silva delivered in a way that only those who had seen him bat before would believe. His years toiling away at the first class level payed off as he and Niroshan Dickwella took Sri Lanka to safety with a 94-run stand.