Prabath Jayasuriya spun a web around Australian batters over two innings of controlled left-arm spin as Sri Lanka levelled the two-match test series one apiece. Handed a debut after a slew of Covid cases ruled out pacer Asitha Fernando and spin bowling pair Jeffrey Vandersay and Praveen Jayawickrama, the 30-year-old grabbed his chance thrillingly. In the first innings, his languid spell of 6/118 helped keep the visitors’ score to a manageable 364. With scalps Marnus Labuschagne, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Alex Carey, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon, he was the pick of the lot.

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Sri Lanka piled on the runs in response. Helmed by a many-faced double century by Dinesh Chandimal, with handy contributions from their top-order, the islanders had a 190-run lead to boot. On a rapidly fraying Galle pitch- further bedevilled by Pat Cummins and Starc’s footmarks- Jayasuriya was unplayable almost. Settling into a rhythm, he soon began to seed doubts in the visiting batters. It wouldn’t be long before he ran through the Australian batting spine. Snaring the in-form Usman Khawaja before dismissing first-inning centurions, Steve Smith (for a duck) and Labuschagne-both caught plumb in front- the Jayasuriya juggernaut rolled on.

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He would add three more to his tally, removing Green and Starc in the same over, before closing out the Australia innings by knocking over Mitchell Swepson’s stumps. With six-fers in both innings, the Matale Mauler did with the ball what the more illustrious Matara Mauler- Sanath Jayasuriya- would do with the bat. His match figures of 12/177 are the fourth-best for a debutant and the best for a Sri Lankan on debut.

Safely ensconced within the top five for debut match figures in test cricket, we list the other four names that make up this motley group:

1. Narendra Hirwani (India): 16/136 vs West Indies, Chennai 1988.

2. Bob Massie (Australia): 16/137 vs England, Lord’s 1972.

3. Fred Martin (England): 12/102 vs Australia, The Oval 1890.

5. Jason Krejza (Australia): 12/358 vs India, Nagpur 2008.

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Impressive on debut, Jayasuriya will be keen on avoiding the fates experienced by those above and just below him on the list. Hirwani’s career tapered after a bright start. Dropped from his state XI- Western Australia- soon after his Lord’s mastery, Massie found more success as a radio commentator. Fred Martin curiously did not play beyond his two tests but could at least console himself with a bowling average of 10.07. Jason Krejza was cannon-fodder for Indian batters throughout the Nagpur test. He was among Australia’s spin-bowling musical chairs as the selectors sought Shane Warne’s replacement. They would eventually stumble on once-groundstaff Nathan Lyon.