Sri Lanka 355 (Chandimal 132, de Silva 129, Starc 5-63, Lyon 3-110) and 347 for 8 dec (Silva 115, de Silva 65*, Lyon 4-123) beat Australia 379 (S Marsh 130, Smith 119, M Marsh 53, Herath 6-81) and 160 (Warner 68, Herath 7-64) by 163 runs
History was against this Sri Lanka team, so they created their own. Before this series, Sri Lanka had beaten Australia just once – one single Test in 33 years of cricket between the nations.
Kumar Sangakkara, perhaps the finest batsman Sri Lanka has ever produced, played 134 Tests and never tasted victory against Australia. Dhananjava de Silva and Lakshan Sandakan, uncapped a month ago, have now played in three.
So too has Rangana Herath, whose grey-tinged hair and cuddly build can trick you into thinking he was born 38 years old. But he was young once. At 21, he sat in the rooms in Kandy and watched his squad-mates beat Australia in 1999, the only previous occasion on which they had managed the feat. Herath had to wait until the next Test in the series to make his debut. Seventeen years later, he has been part of whitewashing Australia.
A significant part, in fact, for Herath finished the series as the leading wicket taker, with 28 at 12.75. And never was he more devastating than the final day of the final Test, when he collected 7 for 64 to bowl Sri Lanka to their triumph. Set 324 for victory, Australia briefly dreamed of a consolation win while David Warner was moving briskly to 68. But once he departed the capitulation came quickly, Australia bowled out for 160, defeated by 163 runs.
Rangana Herath once again destroyed Australia © AFP
Make no mistake: this series was a complete humiliation for Australia. They arrived in Sri Lanka as the No.1 team in the world, confident of overcoming No.7. Apart from the first day of the series, when they skittled Sri Lanka for 117, Australia were rarely in with a chance. The No.1 ranking is not only gone, but Australia have slipped to third, behind India and Pakistan, while Sri Lanka have moved up to sixth. Australia’s loss in Colombo was their ninth consecutive Test defeat in Asia, a record that augurs exceptionally poorly for their four-Test tour of India early next year.
Mitchell Starc was brilliant, finishing with 24 wickets and the best strike-rate of any bowler ever to take 20 wickets in a Test series in Asia. But the batting was deplorable. Only twice in the past hundred years have Australia’s batsmen collectively averaged so few runs in a series of three or more Tests as the 19.86 they averaged in this series. There were good excuses on the other occasions: in 1978-79 Australia were ravaged by World Series Cricket, and in England in 1956, Jim Laker was unplayable on uncovered pitches prepared to suit him.
Here there were no such excuses. The pitches turned but were perfectly decent. Sri Lanka’s batting was inconsistent and they gave Australia’s bowlers openings, but always there was someone to step up and rescue the innings: Kusal Mendis in Pallekele and Galle, Dinesh Chandimal and de Silva in the first innings in Colombo and Khaushal Silva in the second. Sri Lanka’s spinners used the conditions well, Australia’s batsmen were often incompetent.
But that is for Australia’s management to assess in their post-mortems. Now is the time to celebrate Sri Lanka’s achievement. Only three times previously had they whitewashed any team in a three-match series – Zimbabwe once, Bangladesh once and West Indies once. Surely none of those triumphs can match the feat not only of crushing the No.1 team, but doing so with a developing squad, so soon after the retirements of champions such as Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.
That is why it was so satisfying for Sri Lanka that contributions came from newer faces. De Silva, who debuted in Pallekele, led the series run tally with 325 at 65.00. Mendis, with only one first-class century before this campaign, played the innings that effectively determined the course of the series. Sandakan, though rarely needed because the finger-spinners bowled so well, took nine wickets at 23.00.
He wasn’t even needed on the final day, such was the annihilation brought on by Herath, with assistance from Dileuwan Perera. When the Test finished with half an hour still to play until tea, it was remarkable to think that Sri Lanka were still batting when the morning began. Angelo Mathews allowed his men nearly five overs to bump the target up to 324, which required Australia to make their highest ever fourth-innings total in Asia.
Briefly they had hoped, as Warner played his naturally attacking game and compiled a 77-run opening stand with Shaun Marsh. But once that partnership was broken on the brink of lunch, when Marsh was brilliantly caught at short leg by Mendis off Perera, the last nine wickets tumbled for less than a hundred runs. In fact, from the moment Steven Smith was bowled trying to cut Herath, Australia lost nine for 60 in 18 overs.
It was a complete capitulation. Herath straightened one just enough to trap Adam Voges lbw for 1. Warner was bowled around his legs offering no shot to Perera for 68. Moises Henriques, brought in for this match at the expense of Usman Khawaja, added 4 more to the 4 he scored in the first innings, never looking comfortable against the spinners. He was run out when he advanced to Perera, the ball flew off his pad to Mathews at slip, and the captain threw down the stumps.
After that it was all Herath. Mitchell Marsh was caught behind off a beautiful turning delivery. Peter Nevill top-edged a sweep and was taken at slip. Starc too skied an attempted slog sweep and the keeper Kusal Perera took a fine running catch. Then Josh Hazlewood was lured just out of his crease and stumped, and Nathan Lyon was lbw sweeping to end the match.
Herath was mobbed by his team-mates. Australia were history, and Sri Lanka had created it.
(By Brydon Coverdale, assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo)