On September 26, 1995, Sri Lanka scripted history by winning their first-ever overseas three-Test series following a win over New Zealand. They beat Pakistan at the Jinnah Stadium, Sialkot in the third Test match by 144 runs and made an amazing comeback in the series after losing the first Test. Sarang Bhalerao revisits the watershed moment in the history of Sri Lankan cricket.
The wait was agonising for Sri Lanka, who were on the brink of scripting history. The last wicket stand between Moin Khan and Aamer Nazir defied Sri Lanka for 79 minutes. When Nazir was dismissed by Aravinda de Silva caught at forward short-leg by Hashan Tillakaratne, Sri Lanka became only the fourth side in the history of Test cricket to win a three-match series after losing the first Test.
Arjuna Ranatunga won the toss and had no hesitation to bat first on a wicket that was expected to turn as the game progressed. The Pakistan attack missed Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram courtesy of injuries. Aaqib Javed led the home side attack which was inexperienced. Pakistan had Sri Lanka in some trouble as Aaqib removed Roshan Mahanama for 21. Nazir then had the wicket of Chandika Hathurusingha for 12. When Ata-ur-Rehman dismissed Aravinda caught at gully for a duck, Sri Lanka were reduced to 41 for three in the first session of the Test match.
The Sri Lankan recovery was led by captain Ranatunga and Asanka Gurusinha. The duo added 67 for the fourth wicket before Ranatunga was out bowled to Aamir Sohail for 24. Gurusinha followed soon after as he was run-out for 45 in just under three hours. Tillakaratne and off-spinner Kumar Dharmasena then added 40 for the sixth wicket but the former was out to Mohammad Akram for 24. Dharmasena looked positive and batted with a lot of confidence. He brought up his half-century before the day ended. Sri Lanka lost wicketkeeper Chamara Dunusinghe for one. His innings came in 43 minutes. Day One ended with Sri Lanka posting 216 for seven with Dharmasena unbeaten on 52. Chaminda Vaas was not out on 16.
On the second day morning, the Sri Lankan innings folded up for 232 with Dharmasena remaining unbeaten on 62 — the only half-century of the innings.
Pakistan in reply lost Shoaib Mohammad leg-before to Muttiah Muralitharan for eight. Sohail was out bowled by Dharmasena for 48. Inzamam-ul-Haq scored a 55-ball 21 before falling to Pramodya Wickramasinghe. Muralitharan then trapped captain Ramiz Raja, who went for an expansive sweep shot, leg-before for 26. Ramiz played back to a delivery that turned sharply. Muralitharan was on a roll. He had Basit Ali leg-before and Pakistan were reduced to 122 for five.
Zahid Fazal and Moin then stitched a useful partnership of 51 to set the game in balance. Soon Aravinda had Zahid and in the next over Moin fell to Wickramasinghe to turn the tide in Sri Lanka’s favour. Pakistan were bowled out for 214, thus conceding a slender lead of 18 runs. This was Sri Lanka’s best chance to bat Pakistan out of the match considering the lack of experience in their bowling line-up. In the second Test at Faisalabad, Sri Lanka won the game after conceding a lead of 110 with Aravinda scoring a fine century.
At Sialkot, Hathurusingha (78), Ranatunga (87) and Tillakaratne (50) scored half-centuries and propelled Sri Lankan total to 338. The wicket was wearing and Pakistan had not selected a specialist spinner in their line-up. Sohail, was at best, a part-time option but he bowled 25.3 overs which emphasised the selection blunder that Pakistan had committed before the start of the game.
Pakistan were set an imposing 357 runs for a win. The home side had not a lost a Test series in Pakistan since 1980-81, when West Indies had beaten them.
Pakistan began their run-chase in a disastrous manner losing Sohail caught bat-pad by Hathurusingha at forward short-leg off Wickramasinghe. Shoaib was out caught and bowled to Vaas when the former checked his shot just a little trying to negotiate the late movement on the ball. Two balls later, Inzamam was befuddled by the extra bounce by Vaas and the ball flew off the edge and was caught brilliantly by Mahanama at the second slip. Mahanama dived full length to his right and held onto a tough change. At seven for three, Pakistan were staring down the barrel. Ramiz and Zahid fell soon after to Vaas to leave Pakistan at 15 for five. Basit and Moin put on 64 for the sixth wicket but before the close on the penultimate day, Basit fell to Vaas to further compound the home team’s problems.
At the close of Day Four, Pakistan were precariously placed at 99 for six. Moin pressed on the accelerator and played a defiant innings. He took on the bowlers, especially Muralitharan by lofting him incessantly over the top and unsettled him. Moin kept losing partners but he was taking on the Sri Lankan attack single-handedly. Moin scored unbeaten 117 but Pakistan failed to get out of the tight corner. Nazir held the fort for 78 minutes but it was only a matter of time before Sri Lanka would dismiss him.
Wisden reports: “Total humiliation for Pakistan was on the cards when Vaas and Wickremasinghe, the sometimes overlooked Sri Lankan seamers, ripped out three wickets with the score on seven and quickly added two more to leave them 15 for five. That brought in Moin Khan to join Basit Ali: they began a desperate struggle to stop the rot by adding 64 for the sixth wicket. They steered Pakistan safely past their lowest score in Tests, 62 against Australia in 1981-82, but, when Basit fell before the close, Moin must have known survival was out of the question. Nevertheless, he batted on into the final afternoon for 117 not out, his second Test hundred, thanks to last man Aamir Nazir, who held out for 75 minutes.”
Ranatunga was awarded Man-of-the-Match for his second innings exploits while the Man-of-the-Series award went to Moin and Tillakaratne.
This triumph was just a stepping stone for Sri Lanka before they went on to conquer the world. A year later the World Cup win would go on to become the watershed moment in the annals of Sri Lankan cricket.
Sri Lanka 232 (Kumar Dharmasena 62*; Aaqib Javed 3 for 47) and 338 for 9 decl. (Arjuna Ranatunga 87, Chandika Hathurusinghe 78; Mohammad Akram 3 for 39) beat Pakistan 214 (Aamer Sohail 48; Muttiah Muralitharan 4 for 72) and 212 (Moin Khan 117*; Chaminda Vaas 4 for 37, Pramodya Wickramasinghe 4 for 55) by 144 runs.
(Sarang Bhalerao hails from a family of doctors, but did his engineering. He then dumped a career in IT with Infosys to follow his heart and passion and became a writer with CricketCountry. A voracious reader, Sarang aspires to beat Google with his knowledge of the game! You can follow him on Twitter here)