Stumps Day Four. Sri Lanka are 67/3, needing a further 319 more to deny India a rare series win overseas. The highest successful chase at the Sinhalese Sports Club is 326/5, which was achieved by the hosts against Zimbabwe in 1998. The odds are heavily stacked against them and it will need a miracle to pull them out of this hole. (Day 4 Blog | Report | Scorecard)
However, in the Test against Zimbabwe 17 years ago, Sri Lanka pulled off a miracle in circumstances very similar to the current match. Lanka were well behind the game for the first four days but it took a stroke of genius to pull off a sensational heist. Angelo Mathews’ team will do well to draw some inspiration from that famous victory.
In the 1998 Test, Zimbabwe won the toss and chose to bat on a wicket that was considered friendly for the bowlers. Zimbabwe notched up 251 thanks to a knock of 73 from Murray Goodwin. In response, Sri Lanka stuttered to 225 thanks to fifties from Arjuna Ranatunga and Romesh Kaluwitharana. Legspinner Paul Strang was the pick of the bowlers with 4/77. (Day 4 in Pics)
Zimbabwe extended their advantage with Andy Flower scoring a magnificent century and their score of 299 gave Sri Lanka a target of 326. The hosts started off in disastrous fashion with Marvan Atapattu and Roshan Mahanama falling for ducks. Heath Streak was creating havoc and with the departures of Sanath Jayasuriya and Hashan Tillakaratne, the game looked lost.
However, Aravinda de Silva, a strokeful genius, played his best knock under pressure and in partnership with Ranatunga, got Sri Lanka back on track. De Silva and Ranatunga neutralised Streak, who had taken all four wickets. The duo attacked the other bowlers and a memorable victory was sealed. (Ishant Gets Into Heated Argument With Sri Lankan Players)
The current Sri Lanka team needs the fire and passion that De Silva and Ranatunga displayed 17 years ago. This team is reeling from the retirements of Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. This team does not have the geniuses of Jayasuriya, Aravinda and Ranatunga to guide them through stormy waters. The entire load is now on Mathews.
The same can be argued that the Indian attack is far more lethal than the Zimbabwe attack at that time. Barring Streak and Strang, the rest of the bowlers were not up to the mark.
The current Indian bowling has variety and hostility. Ishant Sharma demonstrated his fire and wicket-taking ability while the legspinning guile of Amit Mishra is complimented by Ashwin’s accurate and probing offspin. Pulling off a victory against this bowling attack will be a monumental task.
These statistics highlight the enormity of Sri Lanka’s task. A target of over 380-plus has been chased down successfully only once on Sri Lankan soil and that came in July 2015 when Pakistan chased down 382 at Pallekele. Barring the match in Pallekele, teams have registered a total of over 300 in the fourth innings only three other times. Two have resulted in losses while one resulted in victory.
The two common threads that join the Test of 1998 and Pakistan’s heist in Pallekele are partnerships and a huge knock by a key batsman. In 1998, De Silva and Ranatunga came together and the 187-run partnership got them over the line. De Silva went on to score a big hundred. In Pallekele, Pakistan were 13/2 in their chase of 382 but it took a 242-run stand between Younis Khan and Shan Masood to get the team back on track.
After Masood’s departure, Younis hung in along with Misbah-ul-Haq, sealed one of the most memorable wins for Pakistan. The blueprint for the Mathews’ men is clear on Day 5. They need a big knock from one of the batsmen but more importantly, they need a big partnership.
There is plenty at stake for both teams heading into the final day. A win by India breaks their overseas drought while for Sri Lanka, a record chase will make their transition from the post-Kumar Sangakkara era a smooth one.