Twenty five years later

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!

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