TEST: Kusal, Dilruwan steer Sri Lanka in nervous chase to level series

SUMMARY: Sri Lanka 154 (Dickwella 42, Holder 4-19) and 144-6 (Kusal Perera 28*, Dilruwan Perera 23*, Holder 5-41) beat West Indies 204 (Holder 74, Dowrich 71, Kumara 4-58) and 93 (Rajitha 3-20, Lakmal 3-25) by four wickets

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The Pereras – Kusal and Dilruwan – put on a luck-filled but plucky 63-run partnership to haul Sri Lanka to victory on the fourth afternoon of the third Test. There were heart-stopping moments for Sri Lanka in this session, particularly when their best batsman Kusal Mendis was hit in front of the stumps before the team could get off the mark on the day.

But although Jason Holder completed an outstanding five-wicket haul at his home venue, and despite the relentless pressure the West Indies quicks created, Sri Lanka’s seventh-wicket stand held firm. Kusal Perera, having returned from his brief stint in hospital the previous night, made a measured 28 not out off 43 balls – by far his most consequential innings of the series.

Dilruwan showcased the fight for which he keeps getting picked, surviving 68 balls as he staggered to an unbeaten 23. Between them, this pair only hit four intentional boundaries. One of those was Dilruwan’s slap over mid-off, to reach the target.

Sri Lanka will take particular satisfaction from this victory, it having come in such trying circumstances. Three of their senior-most batsmen were missing from the XI – opener Dimuth Karunaratne was injured, Angelo Mathews was at home attending the birth of a child, and Dinesh Chandimal was suspended.

The absence of this experience almost told in this chase as batsmen threw wickets away in the final sessions of day three, but large helpings of good fortune helped ease Sri Lanka’s path to victory the following afternoon.

Dilruwan could have been out several times, edging a ball through the slips, sending a leading edge just wide of cover, and almost playing Kemar Roach on to his stumps. Kusal Perera played and missed plenty himself, and was hit painfully on the hand by Miguel Cummins, to add to the discomfort from his nasty collision.

But somehow, while the Pereras were at the crease, most of the dangerous deliveries missed the edges of their bats or passed by the stumps, and Sri Lanka inched home. There were leg byes, byes, glances just past the keeper, and nervy singles into the infield. The runs were not pretty, but they were important.

There was little the West Indies did wrong on day four. The quicks continued to create chances; no catches were dropped. Occasionally the seamers were guilty of bowling too straight, allowing the batsmen to score easy runs to fine leg.

But as the morning progressed, and the ball became softer, there was less seam movement on offer. They seemed by a distance the likelier side to win, when Holder’s sixth delivery of the day, stayed a tad low and struck Mendis in front of off stump.

But even though Shannon Gabriel was as quick in this session as he has been through the series, and Kemar Roach was just as intense, the Pereras squeaked out runs, while their anxious dressing room – in which Chandimal was present – looked on.

Only after the target was whittled down to less than 20 did the mood lighten in the Sri Lanka camp; it was around that stage that West Indies’ shoulders dropped. Kusal and Dilruwan clinched the victory and secured a drawn series for Sri Lanka, but it was the seamers’ outstanding work on day three, in which they dismissed the hosts for 93 in the second innings, that was most instrumental to this victory.

Though it did help that Sri Lanka batted deep in this match, and that Dilruwan – rather than either of the other spinners, who are less capable with the bat – was their No. 8.

With this victory, Sri Lanka complete a sequence of four overseas Test tours, each of which they have performed creditably in.

They had won against Pakistan last year, drawn two Tests in India (though they lost the series 1-0), won in Bangladesh, and now drawn a difficult seam-dominated series in the West Indies. Had they not wasted two hours protesting the ball-tampering charge in St Lucia, they might even have returned with the trophy. (ESPNCricinfo)

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