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Sri Lanka’s Test debut: A glimmer of hope before fade out

Sri Lanka’s Test debut: A glimmer of hope before fade out

Ranjan Madugalle on his way to an inning of 65 in the first innings of Sri Lanka’s first-ever Test match Colombo’s Saravanamuttu Stadium in 1982 © Getty Images

On February 17, 1982, Sri Lanka was inducted as the eighth Test-playing nation. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back one of the most promising beginnings by a Test side that went all wrong in the second innings.

Day One
It was a huge moment for Sri Lanka. After they beat India in the 1979 World Cup league match, they had established their case for getting Test status; their dream came true as Bandula Warnapura went out to toss with Keith Fletcher on February 17, 1982, at the P Saravanamuttu Stadium in Colombo.
Given the grandeur of the occasion, the crowd was sparse: it was a weekday, and the tickets were terribly expensive for the ordinary wage-earner. Warnapura won the toss and decided to bat. He faced the first ball for his country, and soon scored the first run. He was also the first to take a blow — on the chest — as the ball bounced.
Bob Willis and Ian Botham bowled well, and gave the Sri Lankan top order a torrid time. Warnapura was soon the first man to be dismissed for his country as David Gower took a high catch at gully off Willis. Roy Dias walked in, and before he scored a run, he played a half-cock hook; Geoff Cook, the only debutant in the Test for England, did not flinch and took a fine catch at short-leg.
Sidath Wettimuny, the other opener, was now joined by the rotund Duleep Mendis. Paul Allott was brought on, and soon found Wettimuny’s edge; Botham dropped the catch at second slip. To add salt to the wound, Mendis hit a straight-drive off Allott for Sri Lanka’s first-ever boundary in Tests.
Fletcher then brought back Botham, who bounced one to Wettimuny in his first over. The batsman hooked, but could only manage a top edge that went straight to ‘keeper Bob Taylor. In his next over Botham trapped Mendis leg-before as the batsman tried to play him off the back-foot. Sri Lanka were 34 for four and in serious trouble.
It was then that Arjuna Ranatunga, a 18-year-old schoolboy, joined Ranjan Madugalle at the crease. Before the partnership got going, though, Madugalle was dropped — once again off Allott — this time by Graham Gooch. And the partnership got going.
It was a hot day, and the England fast bowlers soon got tired. The drinks intervals were more frequent than usual. Allott tried to put Ranatunga on a check by bowling to a 7-2 field, but the kid kept on playing across the line and making merry. An exhausted Willis was taken off after a spell of 10-4-13-2, and spin was introduced.
Madugalle greeted John Emburey with Sri Lanka’s first ever six with a hoick over the square-leg boundary. Sri Lanka soon reached 100 off 191 minutes in the 37th over, and the partnership began to look dangerous. Ranatunga began to take control, opening up and playing one fluent stroke after another, and reached his 50 in just over two hours to bring the sparse crowd to its feet. Madugalle also looked solid, and the partnership continued to flow.
It was then that Derek Underwood struck. The Kent wizard pitched one outside off-stump; Ranatunga did not offer a shot as the ball spun and hit the off-stump. He had scored 54 off 96 balls with seven boundaries. The partnership had yielded 99. Soon after, Somachandra de Silva was caught by Gower, once again off Underwood.
Madugalle fought, though, with Asantha de Mel for company. The score had reached 181 when de Mel finally fell — once again off Underwood — caught by Fletcher. And then, in the last ball before stumps, Lalith Kaluperuma gave Cook his second catch — also off Underwood. The Kent bowler, in an inspired spell of 90 minutes in the final session, had taken four wickets. Sri Lanka ended the day at 183 for 8. Madugalle remained not out on 64.
Day Two
Though Madugalle fell early to Underwood on the next day for a 164-ball 65, the last partnership of Mahes Goonatilleke and Ajit de Silva pushed the score to an okayish 218. Underwood had taken 5, while Botham had snared 3.
Asantha de Mel struck early, though. In a lethal opening spell he removed Cook, Chris Tavaré and Gooch in quick succession, and England were 40 for three in no time — almost the same situation as Sri Lanka were the previous day. It was then that Gower and Fletcher added 80 for the fourth wicket. Asantha de Mel came back to remove Botham as well, but Gower consolidated the innings with Taylor. At stumps England were 186 for five — definitely the better side.

Day Three
The de Silvas struck early on Day Three. From 200 for five, England collapsed to 223, giving them a slender five-run lead. Gower had scored a gallant 89, and Taylor held fort as the tail collapsed all around him. Sri Lanka were optimistic of an upset victory now in their first-ever Test. Asantha de Mel had taken four wickets while the de Silvas took five between them.
Though Willis removed Wettimuny early, Warnapura and Dias settle down, putting up 83 for the second wicket. Dias played some fabulous strokes off both pace and spin, and soon went past Wettimuny, who gave Emburey his first scalp. Dias fell finally just before stumps: his 128-ball 77 had included 11 fours. The dynamic innings added to the hypothesis that Sri Lanka had some prodigious talents. Sri Lanka ended the day at 153 for three, with a formidable lead of 148. Another 100 to 150 runs, and they had a serious chance of making a match out of this.

Sri Lanka’s Test debut: A glimmer of hope before fade out

John Emburey (left) and Derek Underwood who played havoc against Sri Lanka © Getty Images

Day Four
That was not going to happen, though. They were doing okay for nine overs when Emburey and Underwood took over. It was then that Emburey bowled a spell of five for 10 in 10 overs, and Underwood supported him with two for six off 10.5 overs. Eventually Emburey finished a career-best six for 33, and Underwood with three for 67. A dumbstruck Sri Lanka folded for 175.
Asantha de Mel wasn’t prepared to give up, though. He trapped Cook leg-before and hit Tavaré on his helmet, but that was that. Gooch and Tavaré put up 81 before the former was yorked by Ajith de Silva. Tavaré then batted fluently and aggressively — adverbs people do not typically associate with Tavaré — and he and Gower saw England to the verge of victory.
Eager to take the winning hit, Tavaré stepped out against Ajith de Silva and was stumped. He had scored 85, and England had only four runs to win. Gower brought up the winning runs, cover-driving de Mel for a four with five minutes to stumps, and Sri Lanka had lost their first-ever Test.
They had done better than South Africa (lost by eight wickets), West Indies (an innings and 58 runs), New Zealand (lost by eight wickets), India (lost by 158 runs), and Pakistan (lost by an innings and 70 runs). They, as was evident, were not a team to be taken lightly.
In 14 years they would win the World Cup.
Brief scores:
Sri Lanka 218 (Ranjan Madugalle 65, Arjuna Ranatunga 54; Derek Underwood 5 for 28) and 175 (Roy Dias 77, John Emburey 6 for 33) lost to England 223 (David Gower 89; Asantha de Mel 4 for 70) and 171 for 3 (Chris Tavaré 85) by seven wickets.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at He can be followed on Facebook)

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