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 Saturday.
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 experience.
"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 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.
Skipper Steven Smith blamed Australia`s "lack of discipline" on the batting front for the number one Test team`s shock loss.
"We did quite well to bowl them out for 117, but we lacked a bit of discipline in our batting," Smith, who had to swallow a bitter first defeat as Test captain in his 12th match, told reporters.
"We were in a good position to get a bigger lead than 86, but didn`t get that," said a disappointed Smith.
Australia, who held the advantage for the opening two days even after scoring 203 in their first innings, were done in by a century by Kusal Mendis which marked Sri Lanka`s turnaround.
"Kusal Mendis played an outstanding innings and took the game away from us. 267 against quality spinners was going to be tough task and we weren`t up to that," said Smith.
Smith posted a gritty 55 before Steve O`Keefe and Peter Nevill frustrated Sri Lanka with a 178-ball partnership that lasted for over two hours but it only delayed the inevitable.
"Pretty proud about the way Peter Nevill and Steve O`Keefe fought hard in the end. It wasn`t easy. Some balls were skidding and some were spinning," said Smith.
Smith admitted that Australia, who trail the three-match series, will have to find a way to tackle the spinning conditions.
Australia`s last outing to the sub-continent saw them lose all four Tests against India in 2013 and they also lost both matches when Pakistan hosted them for a two-Test series in 2014 in the Gulf.
"We have got to find our plans and find ways to play in these conditions. 1-0 down in a three-match series so have to turn it around quickly," said Smith.