West Indies 271 (Cornwall 61, Lakmal 5-47) and 34 for 1 (Brathwaite 8*, Bonner 15*) need another 341 runs to beat Sri Lanka 169 and 476 (Nissanka 103, Dickwella 96)
Pathum Nissanka‘s century on debut – the fourth Sri Lankan to achieve the feat, the first since Thilan Samaraweera in 2001, and the first to do so overseas – and an equally vital 96 from Niroshan Dickwella, crowned a dominant day for Sri Lanka, in which they seized command of the first Test, and put themselves in prime position to secure a first win in the format in over a year.
The pair’s 179-run stand for the sixth wicket, compiled over two sessions, helped set the West Indies a 375-run target, 34 of which the hosts had knocked off by stumps for the loss of just John Campbell. Kraigg Brathwaite and Nkrumah Bonner were at the crease on 8 and 15 respectively.
The day though belonged unequivocally to Nissanka, whose low-risk, high-impact innings, together with an unusually measured effort from Dickwella, had taken Sri Lanka from a precarious position at the start of the day – following Alzari Joseph’s early removal of Dhananjaya de Silva – to one of complete control.
That eventuality though would hardly have been at the forefront of the pair’s minds when they came together in the first over of the morning, with Sri Lanka’s lead still a fledgling 157. As the last two recognised batsmen, they would have known any misstep by either would expose a very long tail – the swiftness with which the innings folded following Nissanka’s dismissal more than justifying those concerns.
But if patience and application was the need of the hour, the duo produced that in spades. Nissanka’s 103 came off 252 deliveries, more or less encapsulating the safety-first approach he had woven into the very fabric of his innings; in fact, less than a fifth of his runs came in boundaries, while West Indies must be sick of the sight of his unwavering forward defence.
Indeed, rarely has a Test century contained such few noteworthy moments – though this is by no means a criticism. Sure, there was a fairly dismissive pull off Kyle Mayers, and then, earlier, a lovely punch through the covers off Kemar Roach, but for the most part this was an innings of dabs, prods, glides and drives (though none that reached the fence) – and crucially, almost no risk.
But after a first-innings capitulation that had seen many of Sri Lanka’s batsman fall, as much down to a lack of application as it was to probing lines employed by the West Indian bowlers, Nissanka’s innings was a refreshing change of pace.
At 22 years of age, and in foreign conditions, there is hardly likely to have been a more pleasing sight to Mickey Arthur and Grant Flower than the solidity showcased during his knock. In a way it was fitting that when he eventually did fall, it was on his own terms, going for a slog sweep in an attempt to up the scoring rate.
Arguably even more pleasing to the Lankan coaches might have been Dickwella’s innings. While his dismissal four runs short of maiden Test century will have undoubtedly been a mood-killer, the maturity and control up until then was definitely a side many thought they might never see of the man.
Now obviously his innings was not one without peril (what Dickwella innings is?) – he was dropped at gully, chopped the ball back onto his stumps without the bails being dislodged, and also survived a caught-behind appeal after West Indies had burned their reviews – but for the most part it was restrained.
He would only truly free his arms once the lead had ballooned beyond 300, though his innings was cut short before he could to do too much more damage, edging a slower ball from Roach back onto his stumps. By that point though it was already likely too late.
But the fact that the final five Sri Lankan wickets fell for just 38 runs will certainly leave the hosts wondering what might have been had a few pivotal moments gone their way. There’s also bound to be introspection surrounding the wisdom of some of their reviews – their last in particular, after Nissanka had got a clear edge on an lbw call, the most poorly conceived, and ultimately serving to reprieve Dickwella.
If any of those had gone the way of the hosts, we would likely be looking at a very different equation, but as it stands staving off defeat on the final day will be West Indies’ primary concern.