Dickie Bird trying his best to make Tamil Protestors leave the pitch at Lord’s. Inset: Alan Ealham © Getty Images
Dickie Bird trying his best to make Tamil Protestors leave the pitch at Lord’s. Inset: Alan Ealham © Getty Images

August 23, 1984. Sri Lanka’s first Test on English soil, at Lord’s, was punctuated by an invasion by protestors demanding an independent Tamil state in Sri Lanka. In a bizarre turn of events, it took a hilarious turn as the umpires and policemen tried to clear the field. Abhishek Mukherjee relives a bizarre day’s cricket.

It had been eight years since Velupillai Prabhakaran had founded LTTE. The attack on the Sri Lankan Army (Patrol Four Four Bravo) at Thirunelveli was fresh in memory. India had already started lending their support. A no-holds-barred quest for a Tamil Eelam (vague translation: independent state) was in full flow.

In another island in a different time zone and weather, the locals were being flattened by one of the greatest teams in history. West Indies thrashed England 5-0. Andy Lloyd’s Test career ended before it took off, as did Paul Terry’s, both falling prey to vicious fast bowling.

It was not only about the score-sheets: their batsmen were battered and bruised all over, physically and psychologically, and there was little scope of redemption from there. You could not blame them for not being able to motivate themselves for the series.

All that reflected during the solitary Test at Lord’s, Sri Lanka’s first on English soil. David Gower opted to bowl on a pitch that had little for the seamers. Sidath Wettimuny opened batting, ended Day One on 116 and Day Two on 187 before finally falling for 190. He had faced 471 balls over almost 11 hours.

Captain Duleep Mendis then hooked the fast bowlers with panache en route a 143-ball 111. Sri Lanka declared on 491 for 7. England crawled pathetically — even scoring 49 in a session (obviously, it involved Chris Tavare). It was one of those rare moments when Lord’s booed the home team and cheered for the tourists instead. Gower even apologised for the tactics.

England conceded a 121-run lead. Ian Botham pulled off a single-handed effort, reducing Sri Lanka to 118 for 5. But Amal Silva (102*) batted through, while Mendis produced his second spectacular performance of the match, a 97-ball 94.

Sri Lanka finished on 294 for 7 and walked off with the honours. The only debutant of the Test got only 16 and 3. However, he would go on to shape Sri Lankan cricket in the 1990s. The world would hear more of Aravinda de Silva.

The incident

The incident took place on the first day. Protestors had interrupted the match between Australia and Sri Lanka in the 1975 World Cup at The Oval. The situation at home had taken a far more serious turn in the interim period. There was an encore at Lord’s.

Unfortunately, the posters demanding Tamil Eelam did not have the desired impact on some sections of the crowd, who largely guffawed. Scyld Berry recalled in The Game of Life: “Some people laughed: who were these funny chaps waving flags and banners sporting the name ‘Eelam’? Plays for Kent, doesn’t he?”

The Eelam mystery

No, there has been no First-Class cricketer called Eelam, for Kent or otherwise. Who was this mysterious Eelam, then?

Kent did have a hard-hitting batsman, though. He scored almost 11,000 runs, topping the 1,000-run mark in 1971, 1976, and 1977. He even led Kent from 1978 to 1982. However, his main claim to fame was fielding, especially in the deep, which enticed England to appoint him 12th man several times. A run out or two might have earned him the cult status of Gary Pratt.

His son, an all-rounder, would also play for Kent (and later Nottinghamshire). He surpassed his father, for he played 8 Tests and 64 ODIs.

It is up to you to decide whether it was justified to mistake Eelam for the surname of Alan, the father, and Mark, the son: does Eelam sound similar to Ealham?

Brief scores

Sri Lanka 491 for 7 decl. (Sidath Wettimuny 190, Arjuna Ranatunga 84, Duleep Mendis 111) and 294 for 7 decl. (Amal Silva 102*, Duleep Mendis 94; Ian Botham 6 for 90) drew with England 370 (Chris Broad 86, David Gower 55, Allan Lamb 107; Ashantha de Mel 4 for 110, Vinothen John 4 for 98).

Man of the Match: Sidath Wettimuny.