In 1981, at their annual meeting which is held
in June, at Lord’s, the home of cricket, the ICC decided that
Sri Lanka be admitted into the International cricket playing fold.
In those days the governing body made entry absolutely tough for
a country to be amongst the elite. Now, with the sport being globalised
all assistance is being given to countries on the fringe to take
the next big step. Had this been the case then, Sri Lanka would
have been granted this status some 15 – 20 years previously
perhaps, when the island was known as Ceylon!
The following year England under Keith Fletcher arrived to play
the inaugural test match. The honour of leading Sri Lanka fell on
the shoulders of Bandula Warnapura. In their maiden innings the
home team managed only 213 runs. The visitors did not fare much
better going ahead by just 5 runs. The middle and lower order caved
in when Sri Lanka batted second with John Embury and Derek Underwood
doing the damage and Sri Lanka fared worse to be dismissed for 175
runs. Then England went on to register a comfortable win.
Two years later Sri Lanka were invited to play a one test series
and given the opportunity to tread the hallowed turf at Lord’s.
It was a long hot summer and David Gower’s team had been flogged
by the mighty West Indies, 5-0. The England Captain winning the
toss put Sri Lanka into bat perhaps with the intention of an early
finish to the game!
Two days later England were still on the field. Opener Sidath Wettimuny
stole the show. Displaying a pure technique and solid temperament
he batted for 10 hours and 42 minutes and amassed 190 runs. Captain
Duleep Mendis cracked 111 runs and a young Arjuna Ranatunge helped
himself to 84 as Sri Lanka totaled 491 for 7 declared.
England were saved some blushes thanks to the efforts of Alan Lamb
who stroked a century. It was his fourth for the summer having knocked-up
3 gutsy tons against the West Indies. The game ended in a high scoring
draw but it was a morale win for the Lankans.
Sadly the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka had blown-up by then and
visiting teams were wary of touring the island. This meant that
two opportunities came Sri Lanka’s way to tour England –
in 1988 and 1991. Both were one test series and both were won by
England. Finally after ten years Sri Lanka scored a win when a de-moralized
England team arrived in 1992-93 for one game. They had been annihilated
in India losing all three tests played. Their woes were to continue.
Sri Lanka was now being led by Arjuna Ranataunge and they ground
the visitors to the tune of 469. The already battered Englishmen
succumbed twice against the local spinners and the home team won
by five wickets. A historic victory, their first against England
and fourth in 43 tests.
Six years later the teams met again in England. Having won the World
Cup in 1996, Ranatunge’s men were now at the peak of their
powers. On this occasion they won the toss and put England into
bat. It looked a terrible mistake as Graeme Hick and John Crawley
made centuries and England totaled 445. The Sri Lankan batting machine
also fired. They scored runs and scored them quickly through Sanath
Jayasuriya (213) and Aravinda de Silva (152) to do even better than
the hosts, reaching 521.
Then came, that incredible spell of spin bowling from Muttiah Muralitharan
who demolished nine England batsmen giving away only 65 runs. It
paved the way for Sri Lanka’s most famous test victory.
At the turn of the century England appointed a non-Englishman, in
Zimbabwean Duncan Fletcher, to coach their team. Systematically
he set the wheels in motion together with Captain Nasser Hussein.
They were successful in beating Pakistan in Pakistan and arrived
in Colombo with the nucleus of that side in the 200-01 season.
It turned out to be an absorbing series, watched by thousands of
beer drinking, flag waving, slogan chanting Englishmen. Sri Lanka
drew first blood in Galle. Then England levelled the score in Kandy
and finally romped home. Easy winners at the Singhalese Sports Club,
in Colombo, they had done their homework and deserved the 2-1 series
win. They continued in their winning ways when Sri Lanka toured
in 2002. The first test was drawn. Then the Englishmen worked on
a weakness they spotted. To bowl short, rising deliveries as often
as possible at the Sri Lankan batsmen. The ploy worked and they
won the next two tests.
In the last series played in Sri Lanka, after the drawn tests in
Galle and Kandy, where both teams played defensive cricket, Sri
Lanka triumphed in the final game at the SSC grounds. Muralitharan
was the wrecker again as the tourists lost by an innings and 215
runs. The third biggest defeat in their history.
Twenty five years on, Sri Lanka now in England, have got their longest
tour with the most number of international cricket playing days
– three test matches, five ODI’s and one twenty-twenty
game. A gruelling test for Mahela Jayawardena’s team. Will
they stand the test!