Side completes 106-run victory over Australia despite O'Keefe and Nevill's remarkable 178-ball resistance
In the end, it was a blend of youth and experience that secured Sri Lanka a remarkable 106-run win against the top-ranked Australia side in the rain-hit first Test in Pallekele on Saturday (July 30). It was only its second Test win against the visiting side.
Twenty-one-year-old Kusal Mendis paved the way with a masterful 176, while 38-year-old Rangana Herath applied the finishing touches, with 5 for 54 in Australia's second innings, four of those wickets coming on the last day.
For Australia, who began the day on 83 for 3 and was bundled out for 161, it will be a bitter pill to swallow. Not only was it the first defeat under Steve Smith's captaincy, but it came against the No. 7 team, who had just been beaten 2-0 in England.
Smith made a hard-fought 55, the only Australian to hit a half-century in the game, while Peter Nevill and Steve O'Keefe kept the bowlers at bay with a mind-numbing ninth-wicket partnership yielding four runs in 178 balls. But, that aside, the match was well and truly in Sri Lanka's pocket as the batsmen were all at sea against spin.
There was some drama at the start, with rain delaying play by an hour and more gloomy weather forecast for the rest of the day. However, Herath soon had Adam Voges caught and bowled for 12 and it was Australia who was under the pump.
Smith and Mitchell Marsh (25) held the innings together with a 43-run fifth-wicket partnership to raise some hope of a fightback, but Herath burst the bubble, trapping Marsh lbw with a successful umpire review after the batsman was initially adjudged not out.
Smith survived some close moments before Herath, who had been generating considerable drift all throughout the morning, bowled a beauty to deceive him and strike him plumb in front. Mitchell Starc then joined the procession, giving a straightforward return catch to Lakshan Sandakan, the debutant spinner, to lift Sri Lanka's spirits further.
The worry, of course, was whether the elements would allow the match to proceed. The ground staff did their bit, bringing the covers on as a precaution during the break, and Sandakan nabbed Nathan Lyon after lunch to hasten the result.
But Peter Nevill and Steve O'Keefe didn't seem to get the memo, blocking ball after ball, determined to fight till the very end. O'Keefe, who came to bat with an injured hamstring, swept Sandakan for a boundary, but little did anyone realise at that stage that would be the last of Australia's runs for the match. For the next 22 overs, the ninth-wicket pair stayed put.
Frustration mounted for Sri Lanka. Finally, in the 87th over, a ball from Dhananjaya de Silva found the outside edge and was eagerly gobbled up behind the stumps, sending Nevill back for 9 off 115 balls.
Fittingly, the match was finished, moments later, by the man who triggered Australia's collapse – Herath getting the ball to clip O'Keefe's (4 off 98 balls) leg stump to bring on a well-deserved celebration from Mathews's men.