On August 22, 1992, Craig McDermott, Greg Matthews and Shane Warne inspired Australia to a commendable victory on the final day of the match after being dominated by Sri Lanka for most parts of the Test at the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC). It was a famous win, one that skipper Allan Border termed as the “greatest heist since the Great Train robbery of 1963″. Prakash Govindasreenivasan has more.
Sri Lanka would have thought they had done enough to get the better of the team from Down Under for the first time in a Test series. The last time they played each other in Sri Lanka, the hosts were infants, taking baby steps in the longest format of the game. It was only their first year as a Test playing nation. Ten years later, they found themselves to be in a situation wherein they could have comprehensively beaten their mighty opposition in front of a more than 10,000 delirious fans at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo. But, that was not to be.
There is something about sports that enthrals the human mind. Just when Sri Lanka were on the cusp of what could have been a memorable victory, they were stunned by a spirited Australian bowling attack.
It was a see-saw game for Australia. Having been put in to bat in overcast conditions, the Australian batsmen found it difficult to settle down. As the day progressed, wickets kept tumbling and the innings was wrapped up just before close of play for 256. On the second day, Sri Lanka set about wiping the deficit and going past the Australian total. They finished the day on 265 for three, with a slender lead of nine runs. By the third day the skies cleared up and conditions seemed perfect to bat on. Sri Lanka’s batting trio — Asanka Gurusinha, Arjuna Ranatunga and debutant Romesh Kaluwitharana — made the most of it and completed a ton each on the same day of the game.
The Australian bowlers had no answer to the way Sri Lanka paced their innings. What started off as solid establishment from Gurusinha transcended to some chancy strokeplay from skipper Ranatunga and counterattacking gameplay from Kaluwitharana. When Sri Lanka declared, they had amassed 547, their first 500-plus total in Tests. They had managed a 291-run lead.
Day Four saw Border’s men put up a fight. They trailed by more than 250 runs when the play began, but that did not perturb them. Solid performances from David Boon (68), Dean Jones (57), Greg Matthews (64) and Craig McDermott (40) helped them post 471 runs. They set the hosts an intriguing total of 181 with a little less than two sessions to play.
There would have been pressure, but by no means was the game out of Sri Lanka’s hand. They needed to negotiate the first set of 10-12 overs and then pace their innings according to the remaining target. At tea, the hosts were on 79 for two, needing 102 runs from the last session. The huge crowd at the SSC began to brace themselves for an emotional victory. However, Border & Co. had full intentions of spoiling their party. With Gurusinha and Aravinda de Silva in the middle, it was hard to fathom that Sri Lanka would squander the game from such a commanding position.
McDermott gave weight to the possibility. He began by getting the better de Silva’s patience and forced him to go over the top. The hard-hitting de Silva miscued his shot and an outstretched Border took a good running catch to create doubts in the minds of the Sri Lankan batsmen. The home side was on 127 for three, but had 25 overs at their disposal for the remaining 54 runs. The first innings centurion, Ranatunga, walked out to the middle with the idea of securing the win. Border, however, had the last laugh here. He was pumped and held on to another catch to get rid of his opposite number. At 132 for four, panic was slowly creeping into the Sri Lankan dressing room.
Matthews, who had put in an all-round performance in the game so far, had a lot more to offer. He cleaned up Marvan Atapattu and Kaluwitharana, and trapped Chamapaka Ramanayake. From 126 for three, Sri Lanka were down in the dumps at 147 for seven. They could still have taken the game away with just 33 runs required. But the tail had been exposed. Border, in an unflinching act of bravado, threw the ball to an amateur Shane Warne who had gone wicketless for 107 runs in the first innings.
What followed was straight out of an underdog story. Warne, who had endured a horrible time in the match so far, got a chance to redeem himself and he did so in style. With just three more runs added to the total, Pramodya Wickramasinghe became Warne’s first scalp. At 150 for eight, Australia needed two wickets, Sri Lanka 31 runs.
Six more runs and another wicket. Warne was repaying his captain’s faith like never before. Don Anurasiri was the man to fall this time. The crowd could not believe what they were witnessing. Twenty-five runs now seemed like a mountain for the hosts, while Australia were already starting to rejoice what was going to be one of their best comebacks. Warne completed the formality and dismissed Ranjith Madurasinghe to wrap up the innings for 164 and register a narrow 16-run victory.
The result was heartbreaking for the hosts on multiple levels. Debutant Kaluwitharana had to be content with a debut century going in vain, and skipper Ranatunga was left to rue his inability to play responsibly in the second innings. The crowd felt the pain and showed their discontent at their team by booing them during the presentation ceremony. As for the visitors, McDermott, Matthews and Warne had just scripted one of the best comebacks for Australia in the history of the game.
Australia 256 (Ian Healy 66*, Mark Taylor 42; Chandika Hathurusingha 4 for 66) and 471 (David Boon 68, Greg Matthews 64; Don Anurasiri 4 for 127) beat Sri Lanka 547 for 8 decl. (Asanka Gurusinha 137, Arjuna Ranatunga 127, Romesh Kaluwitharana 132; Greg Matthews 3 for 98) and 164 (Roshan Mahanama 39; Greg Matthews 4 for 76) by 16 runs.
(Prakash Govindasreenivasan is a reporter with CricketCountry. His Twitter handle is @PrakashG_89)