Pallekele - Skipper Angelo Mathews heaped
praise on centurion Kusal Mendis after Sri Lanka pulled off a shock 106-run win
against top-ranked Australia in the rain-hit first Test in Pallekele on
Sri Lankan spinners led by Rangana Herath
played a major part in the team's first Test win against Australia for 17
years, but it was Mendis who sparked a turnaround for the hosts.
The 21-year-old Mendis, whose 176-run knock
was laced with 21 fours and a six, registered his maiden Test ton to enable Sri
Lanka to post 353 in the second innings and overcome an 86-run deficit.
Left-arm spinner Herath then took charge to
grab 5-54 and help the hosts bundle out Australia for 161 on the fifth and
final day after they were set a challenging 268-run target.
"It's a great victory because after
the first day's play we were heading just nowhere. Credit should go to Kusal
Mendis, who rescued us," an elated Mathews told reporters.
"The wicket was assisting the spinners
and Rangana Herath proved his brilliance," added Mathews, who was
"relieved" to taste victory after a disastrous England series that
saw them lose the Tests, ODIs and the one-off Twenty20.
The enormity of the unlikely triumph was
also felt when Sri Lankan President offered "special congratulations to Mendis.
"Congratulations to the Sri Lankan
Cricket team for the fantastic win today. Special congratulations to Kusal
Mendis," President Maithripala Sirisena said on twitter.
The win was Sri Lanka's first against
Australia in 27 Test matches. The hosts, ranked seventh in Tests, last won a
match during their 1-0 home series win in 1999.
"It's pleasing to beat them after 17
long years. This is a very strong Australian team as well and they are ranked
number one. I was a little kid when we won the last time," said Mathews.
Australian skipper Steven Smith posted a
gritty half-century before Steve O'Keefe and Peter Nevill frustrated Sri Lanka
with a 178-ball partnership that lasted for over two hours.
For Lankan spinners it was a race against
time as rain threatened to thwart their chances of upsetting firm favourites
Australia but Herath had other ideas in mind.
The veteran spinner, who grabbed four
wickets in the first innings, made life miserable for the Australian batsmen on
a turning track on the fifth morning.
Smith, whose 55 was the next best after
Mendis' century, was trapped LBW by Herath as Australia slipped to 141 for
seven at lunch.
Debutant chinaman bowler Lakshan Sandakan,
who bagged seven wickets in the match, provided the perfect foil to Herath's
"Sandakan is a brilliant find for us.
We knew that the wicket was going to take turn and Sandakan responded
brilliantly," said Mathews.
Australian batsmen, who managed 203 in the
first innings, faltered in their second outing as well on a typical
sub-continent track that assisted spin bowling.
O'Keefe, who was ruled out of the remainder
of the series after injuring his hamstring Thursday, surprised the opposition
by turning up at the crease on Saturday.
O'Keefe and Nevill resisted stoutly with
one eye on the skies but could only delay the inevitable.
"Tough week, credit to Sri Lanka the
way they played. We let ourselves down with the bat, we weren't disciplined
with the bat. Credit to Kusal, his 176 turned the game," said Smith.
"Anything above 260 on this wicket was
always going to be difficult. It's tough to lose O'Keefe but that's cricket.
"Pretty proud about the way Peter
Nevill and Steve O'Keefe fought hard in the end. We were trying to stick around
as much as possible and force a draw but that wasn't to be," he added.
Sri Lanka now lead the three-match series
1-0 as the action shifts to Galle for the second Test beginning August 4.