Inaugural Test Sri Lanka against India
25 years after his country's entry into Test Cricket, a Lankan stands on the verge of creating history for Sri Lankan cricket
On the eve of what could be a momentous test (Australia v Sri Lanka in Hobart begins Friday 16th Nov) for the Lankans (Muralidharan could become the highest wicket taker in tests in the coming days), we take a look at the first ever test Sri Lanka played in India.
Its been 25 years since SL played its first ever test against India. Through the 1970s, Ceylon/Sri Lanka played Tamil Nadu for the Gopalan Trophy in a ‘ feature match’ on the annual cricket calendar. We had seen several exciting players in the 1970s, many Carribean style. However, all of them had to be content with ‘unofficial tests’. Anura Tennakone, Neil Shanmugham, Michael Tissera, Kaluperuma were a few who could have been hugely successful at the Test Level.
India of course had not had such a good experience, having lost the World Cup match to SriLanka in 1979.
I used to admire Sri Lankan cricket even from its pre ‘official’ test days. Such was their passion that Radio Ceylon used to broadcast commentary even on local matches – college matches, district matches. Almost every local match used to be broadcast on the radio so much I had learnt a bit of Sinhalese in the late 70s, early 80s (Tamil was also part of the commentary).
As early as 1980, Rupavaahini, the state owned Television of Sri Lanka, used to telecast highlights of WSC one dayers played in Australia (they were not even a test side then and SriLanka had no connection to those matches).
In those early days, Sri Lanka seemed to be the West Indies of Asia cricket, in terms of style of play.
Sri Lanka got the test status in 1982. And their coming to Madras (almost a 2nd home for them) to play their first ever test against India was a big moment not just for Sri Lankan cricket, but for the people of TN as well.
SL’s inaugural test was against a strong England team at home in early 1982. After having competed well in the first innings and after a strong 2nd innings start, they collapsed dramatically after, at one stage, being in with a chance to secure a draw or may be even pull off a surprise win (10 years later, against Australia, they were once again in a similar kind of position only to collapse dramatically to lose the test at home).
SL then went to Pakistan for a 3 test series and lost to a strong team comprising of Imran, Javed and Zaheer. It was a tough early initiation for SL into test cricket.
Later that year, in September 1982, Sri Lanka made a trip to Madras for a one off test match, one that was broadcast on Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation in 3 languages English, Sinhalese and Tamil.
Sri Lankans impressed straightaway. Three things came to the fore in that test:
They were dashers
They were a good fielding team
They seemed like fighters (something that has been representative of them over the last 2 decades)
Two of the Best Knocks at Chepauk- Roy Dias
What the Madras crowd saw that morning on day 1 was something that still remains etched in one’s memory and we were to witness another gem from Dias within the next 3 days. Those two knocks of Roy Dias would rank as one of the best knocks seen at Chepauk after GR Vishwanath’s 97.
Coming in at No. 3, Roy Dias, possibly Sri Lanka’s most stylish stroke player of the last 25 years, took the attack to the Indian bowlers in his knock of 60 (Dias also starred in the one day series displaying his full array of strokes. It was a one day series which was one of Srikkanth’s best as well alongside the 1985 WCC)
Short and stocky, Duleep Mendis took over from where Dias left and played a knock that left many stunned (Mendis had already been a thorn in the flesh for the Indians having been the architect of the Lankan victory in the world cup in 1979). He made a century in each innings including reaching his century with a six.
Fighting Spirit of the Lankans
Sri Lanka’s fighting spirit was seen in the 2nd innings. After being behind by over 200 runs on first innings, Sri Lankan batsmen fought till the end. Roy Dias’ classy 97 pushed India back (though very few today talk about Dias’ innings- any talk of Great Chennai knocks has reference only to GRV’s 97!!!!), Mendis’s 2nd century of the test match brought him into limelight on the international (test) scene.
One man who played in that first test could have gone on to become a key figure in the Sri Lankan line up that decade. He showed glimpses of his talent with a swashbuckling 70+ in the 2nd innings that pulled Sri Lanka from a precarious position and actually saved them from defeat.
India chase the win
India, for a change (they have not done that too many times in test cricket), chose to go for the win on the final evening. Kapil and Sandeep Patil, fresh from his onslaught on Bob Willis just 3 months before, (Patil had struck Willis for 6 fours in an over) kept India in the chase for a while, but Kapil’s exit triggered a collapse and in the final few minutes that evening India had to fight to make sure they didn’t go down to an embarrassing defeat with Gavaskar being surrounded by fielders around him in the final minutes of the game.
It was quite a rare sight and for a team playing its first ever test against India, it was a psychological victory that they had first held on and then even threw open the possibility of an unlikely win.
3 years later, after this first test against India, and in a most controversial series, Sri Lanka were to register their first series win at home.
Impact those cricketers made in Sri Lankan Cricket
Several cricketers who played in this test went on to make a big impact in Sri Lanka cricket in the first 2 decades of its entry into international(test) cricket.
Mendis went on to play many a good knock for Sri Lanka through the 1980s and later became a cricket administrator. Arjuna Ranatunga, one of the youngest to play test cricket for Sri Lanka, would go on to become Sri Lanka’s first world cup winning captain. Ranjan Madugalle had a compact technique and a lot was expected from him. But he failed to live up to his potential on the playing field but made up for it off the field with his current status as the best match referee in world cricket.
Anura Ranasinghe was a dasher and an early version of Jayasuriya. He, along with Arjuna Ranatunga, were seen as the players for the future. However, while Ranatunga went on to become one of the all time greats of Sri Lankan cricket, Ranasinghe, along with his captain Bandula Warnapura, joined the rebel tour and that was the last one heard of him.
The Leggie- DS De Silva bowling to Gavaskar
One of my favourites in that team was the leggie all rounder Somachandra De Silva. During the early years of Sri Lankan cricket, he played many a vital knock in the middle / late middle order and bowled long spells not giving away too many runs. During those formative years, he was a vital cog in the Sri Lankan armory.
While he did score a few runs and took a few wickets in this test match, my unforgettable memory of DS D’Silva from this test match was his bowling to Gavaskar on the final evening with 7 men round the bat. It was a dream situation for him, to be bowling to one of the all time great batsman with all the fielders around him.
Tamil Nadu had seen quite a bit of a tear away fast bowler who has recently been in a lot of controversy. Asantha De Mel was the bright young quickie who led the pace attack. He did take a lot of wickets for Sri Lanka in the early 1980s but was always expensive.
My other favourite of those early years of Sri Lankan cricket missed this test match but Sidath Wettimuny(his brother Mithra too played for Lanka) would be the rock solid opener of Sri Lankan cricket after their entry into Test cricket.
(India had a few players in this test who were hoping to stay on the international scene for longer but that did not materialise. Arun Lal, a prolific scorer in domestic circuit made his debut here, but really did not get enough chances to stabilise himself in the team. Rakesh Shukla, a late middle order bat and a leggie, was picked on the back of having secured Delhi an unlikely win in the ranji trophy final but he too did not play much after this test. The one who really failed to live up to his full potential was Sandeep Patil, who seemed to be a dashing batsman ready to take on the best of fast bowlers in the world. He too failed to make it big on the International scene despite playing a couple of memorable and unforgettable innings)
The first 6 months of test cricket that year was quite an initiation for Sri Lanka into the big league. They had played against Botham, Willis, Gower and Underwood at home, Zaheer, Javed and Imran in Pak and against Gavaskar and Kapil in another away series.
In each of these tests, they showed to the world that they brought excitement to the cricket field and were never a boring side to watch (People in TN already had seen in the Gopalan Trophy matches and even earlier, the unofficial tests were ample evidence of this).
25 years ago, not many would have given Sri Lanka a chance of producing a cricketer who would be on top of the wickets chart. But here they are on the verge of creating history. The ‘gentleman cricketer’ Muralidharan may claim the glory of the highest wicket taker in the next few days. That really is a significant achievement for this small island, dogged for a large part of this period with a war.