SLvWI, 1st Test, 4th day…..Magical Herath spins Sri Lanka to innings win

Rangana Herath picked up his fifth 10-wicket match haul in Tests as Sri Lanka wrapped up victory by an innings and six runs inside the second session of day four. West Indies, who began the day two down for 67, lost eight wickets on the fourth day for the addition of 160 runs, and as in the first innings, a number of their batsmen failed to capitalise on starts. Their only consolation came from Jermaine Blackwood, who added a fleet-footed 92 to a string of eye-catching recent performances that have marked him out as a definite investment for the future.

Three of Herath’s five ten-fors have now come in Galle. Perhaps no one has understood this surface as well as him. Even Muttiah Muralitharan, who ended his career with a staggering 22 ten-fors, only achieved the feat four times here.

The pitch for this match was slow even by Galle’s standards, and none of the other spinners from both sides found a way to remain a wicket-taking threat. By attacking the stumps relentlessly and giving the batsmen no breathing space, Herath made every ball count – every subtle variation of pace and trajectory. Batsmen were in trouble nearly every time they went forward instead of back or back instead of forward, or played for turn when there was none.

West Indies began the fourth day two down, facing a deficit of 166. Perhaps they may have given themselves hope by imagining a scenario where their nightwatchman Devendra Bishoo hung around long enough to irritate the Sri Lankans while one or two of their specialist batsmen made hundreds. As early as the fifth over of the morning, Herath knocked those visions out of their heads.

First, he sent back Bishoo, who nicked an attempted square-cut to slip. In came Marlon Samuels, and out he went first ball, but not before calling for one of the most needless reviews in the history of the DRS. Staying on the back foot to a ball from Herath he should have been on the front foot to, Samuels shouldered arms. The ball slid in with the angle and pinged his back pad. Maybe Samuels believed the ball had struck him slightly outside the line – even then, he was offering no shot. In the event, it had struck him in line with off stump, and was destined to hit middle stump, three-fourths of the way up.

Nuwan Pradeep who had a mixed Test, was cranking up good pace and bowling a few good balls and a lot of poor ones. In the eighth over of the morning, he bowled his best ball of the match. Going around the wicket, he hit a good length in the corridor and got the ball to straighten a touch. Darren Bravo, pushing half-forward to defend, could only edge it to the keeper.

Though Sri Lanka took four key wickets in the session, they showed evidence of a troubling over-reliance on Herath, with their back-up spinners leaking runs to Jermaine Blackwood and Denesh Ramdin when the left-arm spinner left the field briefly. But the West Indies batsmen did not show the greatest appreciation of which balls to go after, and failed to make that over-reliance hurt Sri Lanka in any way.

Towards the end of day three, Kraigg Brathwaite and Darren Bravo had capitalised on Herath’s absence to take 39 runs from 11 overs bowled by Pradeep, Milinda Siriwardana and Tharindu Kaushal. Now, Siriwardana and Kaushal bowled a series of full-tosses and short balls to concede four fours in two overs to Ramdin and Blackwood.

Blackwood, looking in smooth touch, continued batting with freedom over the next few overs, using his feet to get down the track to launch Kaushal over mid-on for six and drive Siriwardana inside-out for four.

But just when the partnership was giving West Indies the merest glimmer of hope, Ramdin drove loosely at Siriwardana and nicked to second slip. Blackwood almost followed Ramdin to the dressing room in Siriwardana’s next over, edging him while trying to make room and drive despite not getting to the pitch of the ball. But Angelo Mathews, who was uncharacteristically generous at slip in this Test match, spilled the deflection off Kusal Perera’s glove.

Blackwood survived through to lunch, and reached his half-century soon after. Jason Holder hung around long enough to add 36 with him for the seventh wicket before he was run out in slightly unfortunate circumstances. Stepping out to whip Herath into the leg side, he played across the ball which deflected off his pad to Mathews at slip. Spotting Holder out of his crease, he threw down the stumps direct.

Herath then removed Kemar Roach in a replay of his first-innings dismissal. An enticingly loopy delivery, dropping just short of the batsman’s reach, a big heave and miss, and an alert Kusal Perera whipping the bails off with the batsman’s back toe on the line. When Dhammika Prasad trapped Jerome Taylor with a full, straight ball in the next over, West Indies were nine down, with 44 still to get to avoid innings defeat.

Blackwood had only one option left – farm the strike and try to get West Indies as close as possible. Out came the dancing footwork, and he hit Herath for two fours and two sixes, all down the ground, in the space of nine balls. Rattled for once, Herath sent down a short ball, and Blackwood flat-batted it to the cover boundary.

He could only do so much all by himself, though. Batting on 92 with all nine fielders on the boundary, he ran down the track to the third ball of Prasad’s over, and only managed to pick out deep extra cover. Perhaps he could have waited a couple of balls, for the field to come in and try to keep him on strike. It would have only delayed the inevitable.