Niroshan Dickwella has played more Tests, but during the 121-run stand that turned the match, it was Asela Gunaratne who found himself constantly pestered for advice. Sri Lanka had been five-down and 185 runs short of their target when the two came together. Dickwella played aggressively through the partnership, and helped ensure some of the pressure Zimbabwe had exerted, was reversed.
“Since he came to the crease, what Dickwella told me was: ‘Talk to me all the time, and make me score runs.'” Gunaratne said. “I think what he meant was that he hasn’t scored a big Test innings, where I have. He just wanted me to tell him how to handle situations. Sometimes when the game was going a certain way, he wanted me to keep advising him. Occasionally I’d tell him not to go for certain shots. In the end, he stuck around and scored.”
Gunaratne’s own hand in the victory had been a little more measured than Dickwella’s. At the crease when the winning runs were hit, Gunaratne compiled a sensible 80, despite having suffered a mild hamstring injury earlier in the match. Captain Dinesh Chandimal revealed he had expected Gunaratne to play a major role, at the start of the day.
“I told Asela this morning: ‘You’re going to get a hundred today’.” Chandimal said. “But very confidently, Asela said to me: ‘No Chandi, there won’t be need for me to get a 100. I’ll get 70 and win the game.’ That’s the kind of faith I expect from my players. There’s a chance he might not have been able to do that today, but the way he spoke, even I became confident as a captain that we could win this match. I’m really happy I have players like that.”
Though Chandimal himself had been out for 15 on the fourth evening, he said it was important to him that his middle order batted with freedom. Of the three Sri Lanka players to make fifties, two – Dickwella and Kusal Mendis – batted at a strike rate of around 70 for much of their innings (though they would both slow slightly in the approach to their dismissals).
“When it came time for us to bat yesterday, most of what we talked about was playing your own game as batsmen,” Chandimal said. “We knew that it was tough for us to bat out the time and draw the match. If we tried that, it was likely we’d lose. So we said: ‘play your own game’.”
“As a captain I told them that I’d take the responsibility for any mistakes, so don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Kusal, Dimuth Karunaratne and Upul Tharanga played well. Then at the end, Asela and Dickwella were excellent.”
Dickwella and Mendis had also perished playing aggressive strokes: Mendis a sweep and Dickwella a reverse-sweep. Chandimal, however, refused to characterise those dismissals as wasteful.
“We’ve played on these kinds of pitches before in Sri Lanka, and in India and Bangladesh. On these pitches, it’s with sweeps and reverse-sweeps that we can score runs. There’s a risk in that, but if we are chasing scores, we have to play those shots. At training we had practiced those things, and they bore results today.”