Sri Lanka toured Bangladesh in 2022 for two Test matches, and won the series 1-0. Mohammad Isam’s report appeared in the 2023 edition of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack.

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The Sri Lankans had left behind a country on the edge of economic meltdown. So a series win offered a welcome distraction for those back home enduring long queues for basic necessities, or protesting against government corruption – provided they could negotiate the power cuts to follow the action.

In April, two months after he was sacked by England, Sri Lanka Cricket appointed Chris Silverwood on a two-year deal, making him their eighth coach in 11 years. A week later, they named Naveed Nawaz – the former Sri Lankan Test batsman who in 2020 had guided Bangladesh to glory at the Under-19 World Cup – as his assistant. With his vast knowledge of Sri Lankan and Bangladesh cricket, Nawaz would be Silverwood’s secret weapon on his first assignment.

Sri Lanka included four uncapped players (though none made a debut) and recalled four more to a squad showing many changes after a drubbing in India in March. It meant Dimuth Karunaratne would have an inexperienced attack, particularly in pace bowling. As it turned out, though, it was the seamers – Kasun Rajitha and Asitha Fernando in particular – who delivered victory.

On the Test leg of their trip to South Africa, Bangladesh had been bowled out for 53 and 80. But former captain and star all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan, who had missed that series because several members of his family were in hospital with Covid, was now back. As well as strengthening the batting, he would shore up an attack missing the pace of Taskin Ahmed and the off-spin of Mehedi Hasan, both injured. Less than a week before the series began, Shakib himself tested positive – only for another test, two days before the first match, to prove negative. Coach Russell Domingo warned of post-Covid exhaustion, but Shakib had no such doubts.

The pitch for the first Test, at Chittagong, was a batter’s dream. Angelo Mathews hit a commanding 199 to hold Sri Lanka together, while Tamim Iqbal and Mushfiqur Rahim responded with centuries. These two were vying to become the first Bangladeshi to 5,000 Test runs. When Tamim was out for 133, he was still 19 short – but Mushfiqur’s 105 took him past the landmark. The game ended in a draw.

Just after the start of the second Test at Mirpur. Kamil Mishara, a 21-year-old batter who had made his international debut in February, was sent home by SLC after he had “entertained a visitor” in his hotel room. On the field, matters went more smoothly for Sri Lanka. The new-ball pair of Rajitha – who in the first Test had played as a concussion substitute for Vishwa Fernando – and Asitha Fernando reduced Bangladesh to 24-5. But the hosts recovered in extraordinary fashion thanks to hundreds from Mushfiqur and Litton Das. Sri Lanka, however, had their own two centurions, Mathews and Chandimal. Asitha then took six wickets in the second innings, and became only the second Sri Lankan fast bowler to take ten in a Test. Sri Lanka ran out comfortable winners, giving Bangladesh a significant headache just before a trip to the West Indies.

Sri Lanka touring party: FDM Karunaratne (captain), LD Chandimal, DM de Silva, DPDN Dickwella, L Embuldeniya, AM Fernando, BOP Fernando, KWSL Fernando, MVT Fernando, PAKP Jayawickrama, C Karunaratne, LMD Madushanka, AD Mathews, BKG Mendis, PHKD Mendis, RVPK Mishara, CAK Rajitha, RTM Wanigamuni. Coach: CEW Silverwood.
Mishara was sent home after the first Test for a breach of team discipline.

First Test at Chittagong, May 15-19, 2022: Drawn

Bangladesh 4pts, Sri Lanka 12pts. Toss: Sri Lanka. Debut: AZ Lees.

Over the previous decade, the Zohur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium had gained a reputation as the best pitch in Bangladesh. Unlike Mirpur, which often delivered raging turners, Chittagong was likelier to favour batting. But this surface did not get the balance right: it was not a good sign when the experienced Dhananjaya de Silva said he knew by the end of the first day that the Test was heading for a draw. Sure enough, this was a mundane affair, and the sides played out a stalemate that never got as far as a fourth innings. For much of the time, the main aim was to avoid mistakes.

And, for nine and a half hours, Mathews made a decent fist of just that. He was reprieved on 69, survived an unnoticed edge behind on 119, and kept going. He was last out, the 12th to fall for 199 in Tests. It was an innings that called on his considerable nous, and confirmed his improved fitness. Mathews had been the mainstay on day one, guiding Sri Lanka from 66-2 to a steady 258-4 by the close. He reached his 12th Test hundred during a fifth-wicket stand of 136 with Chandimal, whose wicket late on the second morning sparked a collapse.

In 21 balls either side of lunch, Sri Lanka plummeted from 319-4 to 328-8. Mathews was on 148, and Vishwa Fernando – a sturdy tailender at best – kept him company through the afternoon session. Hit on the helmet by Shoriful Islam three balls before tea, Vishwa did not resume after the break, though he did half an hour later, at the fall of the ninth wicket. It looked as if that might allow Mathews to reach his second double-hundred, but he miscued to square leg. (Vishwa managed to bowl eight overs of left-arm seam, but on the third morning was replaced by concussion substitute Kasun Rajitha.) Much the most successful home bowler was off-spinner Nayeem Hasan, whose 6-105 was a career-best.

Tamim Iqbal and Mahmudul Hasan responded confidently to Sri Lanka’s 397: their 162 was Bangladesh’s first century opening stand since 2016-17. However, with Nazmul Hossain and captain Mominul Haque failing again, and Tamim retiring hurt with cramp at 220-3, the innings was in danger of losing direction. But Mushfiqur Rahim, under scrutiny after a string of low scores, took up the fight together with the in-form Litton Das; when they were eventually parted, from the first ball after lunch on the fourth afternoon, Bangladesh were 385-4, just 12 behind.

Litton, who had played faultlessly all morning, fell for 88, chasing a loose one from Rajith – while the fit-again Tamim lasted just one ball. But Mushfiqur went on to his eighth Test hundred, having become the first Bangladeshi to 5,000 runs.

Bangladesh led by 68 on first innings but, with only three and a half sessions left, they would have to bowl supremely to force a result. They claimed two wickets by the close, but next morning Kusal Mendis cracked eight fours and a six in a 43-ball 48 as he feasted on a diet of short deliveries and half-volleys. Bangladesh went off the boil – not helped by the loss of Shoriful, who had broken his right hand – and Sri Lanka had few problems batting out the fifth day. Indeed, an hour before the scheduled finish, the captains decided they had had enough.

Player of the Match: AD Mathews.

Second Test at Mirpur, May 23-27, 2022: Sri Lanka won by 10 wickets

Sri Lanka 12pts. Toss: Bangladesh.

Sri Lanka’s victory was a little closer than the margin might suggest, though it could have been a three-day finish had they pressed home their early advantage. Twice Bangladesh were in dire straits: 24-5 on the first day and 23-4 on the fourth. But even two spirited recoveries – the first largely comprising an astonishing partnership of 272 between Mushfiqur Rahim and Litton Das – could not keep them afloat.

Leading the way for the visitors was Asitha Fernando, who became only the second Sri Lankan pace bowler (after their recently reappointed bowling coach, Chaminda Vaas) to take a ten-wicket haul. On a pitch that fell asleep after the first hour each day, his seam movement was a revelation; he also found bounce and skiddiness. He and his new-ball partner, Rajitha, who in Chittagong had taken four wickets after stepping in as concussion substitute, combined brilliantly. The tall Rajitha adopted an upright seam, while the shorter seven overs was their worst start in a home Test, and left them a mountain to climb.

It turned out they had a couple of determined mountaineers in Litton and Mushfiqur, both in the runs in the previous Test. They kept climbing, and their double-century stand was the first after a team were five down for 25 or fewer. Mushfiqur played straight and took few chances; Litton threw his hands at wide deliveries, and seemed to pierce gaps at will.

After they were separated – at 296-6 on the second morning – Mushfiqur shepherded the tail past lunch. When the innings ended on 365, the centurions had hit a staggering 86 percent of the total; the next-highest contribution was 17, from Extras. The others – the innings contained six ducks – had capitulated at the first sight of seam or swing.

Sri Lanka’s openers put on 95, but at 164-4 they were slipping towards trouble. Shakib Al Hasan had just removed captain Karunaratne with a beauty: bowling around the wicket, he knifed the ball between the left-hander’s bat and pad. Mathews, however, was at the other end, and his century partnership with Dhananjaya de Silva brought them back into the contest – even before an epic 199-run stand with Chandimal.

Mathews had come to rely on his defensive game, driving the ball straight only from a half-volley or full toss. Chandimal, though, was renewing his aggressive side, and they paired up well, both hitting a hundred. With three other half-centuries, Sri Lanka made 506; Shakib claimed his 19th five-for, but his first for almost four years. Trailing by 141, and with a little more than three and a half sessions remaining, Bangladesh were not well placed, nor were they doomed to defeat. By the end of the day, though, they were 34-4, and hopes of survival depended on their heroes from the first innings, both not out overnight. But Mushfiqur fell early on the last morning and, despite Litton and Shakib salvaging some pride in a hundred stand, Sri Lanka needed just 29, which they knocked off in three overs.

Across the Test, Bangladesh limited the Sri Lankan spinners to one wicket, and they claimed only three in the series. In most circumstances that should have brought at least a share of the spoils, but Rajitha and Asitha Fernando – whose mastery of reverse swing improved his career-best in each innings – shared 17 wickets in this Test, ensuring a remarkable Sri Lankan victory.

Player of the Match: JM Da Silva.
Player of the Series: KC Brathwaite.