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After over a decade’s efforts Sri Lanka eventually managed to clinch an overseas series on March 22, 1995. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the day that changed Sri Lankan cricket forever.
Sri Lanka had played their first Test in 1981-82 against England at home, and it had taken them eight series and three-and-a-half years to win their first series: there have been allegations of biased umpiring during their 1-0 victory over India. They defeated New Zealand and England, both 1-0 at home, in 1992-93 — but that overseas series victory remained elusive. In fact, they were yet to win an overseas Test.
When they landed on New Zealand shores in 1994-95, they were still considered among the minnows of the sport. True, they had some extremely talented cricketers (with extremely long names) but had seldom fired as a unit. Ken Rutherford’s Kiwis were expected to give them a tough time, especially in the absence of the seasoned, Roshan Mahanama.
A triumph at Napier
The first jolt came at Napier. Things had started off well when Rutherford had put the tourists in: some excellent bowling from the seamers — Danny Morrison, Gavin Larsen, Dion Nash, and Kerry Walmsley (a debutant who had played only three First-Class matches) — saw the tourists being bowled out for 188. Some resistance had come from skipper Arjuna Ranatunga (55) and a youngster called Chaminda Vaas (33), but they were far from enough.
Disaster struck almost immediately for New Zealand as three young seamers — Vaas, Pramodya Wickeremasinghe, and Ravindra Pushpakumara — reduced them to 33 for three by stumps. The next morning Rutherford and young Stephen Fleming took them to 53, but once Vaas removed Fleming an avalanche followed, taking the rest of the wickets with it. The three seamers were the only bowlers to be used as the hosts collapsed to 109; Vaas claimed five for 47.
Larsen reduced the tourists to 22 for three, but a dominating Aravinda de Silva (62) and a resolute Hashan Tillakaratne (74) added 99; Vaas again came good with the 36, but the hero of the innings was a young debutant wicketkeeper called Chamara Dunusinghe, whose 91 took the Test out of New Zealand’s reach: in the end they were set a near-impossible 427.
After his two cameos and first-innings five-for Vaas was already the hero of the Test, but he decided to add to it: he snared five more wickets (this time for a cost of 43 runs) as New Zealand collapsed from a comfortable 108 for one to 185. Vaas’s partner-in-crime was a young off-spinner who could turn the ball a mile: the next decade-and-a-half would witness the emergence of Muttiah Muralitharan as a legend; here, at Napier, he finished with five for 64 as the tourists romped to their first overseas Test win.
Day One: New Zealand hit back
The hosts left out both Morrison and Nash at Dunedin, bringing in Murphy Su’A and Dipak Patel. Surprisingly, though it seemed that the pitch would take turn, the hosts decided to leave out Shane Thomson. Day One saw the hosts dominate proceedings. Sri Lanka had reached 94 for two before wickets kept falling; there was some resistance from Tillakaratne, but eventually it was Vaas that came to Sri Lanka’s rescue with a 107-ball 51 with five fours.
Pringle and Patel finished with three wickets apiece as Sri Lanka were bowled out for 233. There was some comic relief when Murali swung wildly at everything and was dropped by Pringle and Rutherford. The captain split the webbing between two fingers in the process and was ruled out for the rest of the Test. The day ended with New Zealand on seven with the openers Bryan Young and Darrin Murray at the crease.
Day Two: A rainy affair
Young got off to a spirited start on the second morning after rain delayed the start. It had been difficult to keep Vaas out of action in the series; Murray batted out of his skin to keep him out, but his 39-ball misery came to an end when Vaas had him caught-behind for a duck. Two balls later he trapped Mark Greatbatch leg-before.
Young and Fleming remained unseparated as the players kept going on and off the field amidst the rain. New Zealand finished the day on 95 for two with Young on 44 and Fleming on 39; they still trailed by 128.
Day Three: Vaas shines again
The third day was all about Vaas: both Young (84) and Fleming (66) had threatened to look dangerous; they added 114 before Fleming was run out, but Adam Parore hung around, providing Young with the support he needed. It was the nagging line-and-length, coupled with the relentless stamina of Muralitharan that did the trick: from a comfortable 196 for three New Zealand were bowled out for 307.
Patel was the only one who put up a resistance as Muralitharan spun his web, finishing with figures of 50-20-77-2, bringing a sense of endurance and tenacity that had stood between Sri Lanka and consistency over years. The hero, of course, was Vaas — who routed the hosts with six for 87.
Sri Lanka finished the day without scoring a run or without losing a wicket; they were 74 runs behind, and all they had to do to win the series was to secure a draw.
Day Four: The seniors come to the party
Su’A removed Dulip Samaraweera early, and when Patel sent Sanjeeva Ranatunga and de Silva back in quick succession, Sri Lanka were 81 for three, just eight runs ahead. However, this also brought Tillakaratne to join Asanka Gurusinha at the crease, and the veterans kept their head down and guide Sri Lanka towards the coveted draw.
Tillakaratne was dropped by Young (a very difficult chance) on 39, but barring that both batsmen were generally faultless. Both scored fifties, and at stumps they had seen Sri Lanka to 210 for three with Gurusinha on 92 and Tillakaratne on 68: they already led by 137, and batting out two sessions would probably ensure a series victory for them.
Day Five: A day of glory
Whatever chance was there of New Zealand enforcing a result vanished when the wicket seemed to lose all its life on the fifth morning. Both batsmen scored hundreds; when Tillakaratne (108) and Gurusinha (127) fell in quick succession New Zealand might have sensed a chance, but Ranatunga batted New Zealand out of the Test.
His five partners scored only 31 between them, but they played out 147 minutes, which ensured the Test resulted in a draw. Arjuna himself was last out, caught-behind off Larsen for 90, as Sri Lanka were bowled out for 411. Play was called off due to bad light after Young played Vaas’s first ball, resulting in a first overseas series win for Sri Lanka, or, as Wisden called them, “Ranatunga’s Raiders”.
There was no Man of the Series award, but having won both Man of the Match awards, there was no doubt that Vaas was the performer of the series. A haul of 16 wickets at 11.06 and 123 runs at 41.00 from two Tests left the fans with few choices.
- Sri Lanka soon emerged as one of the powerhouses of the sport. In a year’s time they clinched the World Cup and were catapulted in that barricaded section where top teams belong.
- Muralitharan and Vaas emerged as the finest bowlers in the history of the Island Nation.
Sri Lanka 233 (Chaminda Vaas 51; Chris Pringle 3 for 51, Dipak Patel 3 for 62) and 411 (Asanka Gurusinha 127, Hashan Tillakaratne 108, Arjuna Ranatunga 90; Dipak Patel 4 for 96) drew with New Zealand 307 (Bryan Young 84, Stephen Fleming 66, Dipak Patel 52; Chaminda Vaas 6 for 87) and 0 for 0.
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