On September 11, 1985, Sri Lanka tasted victory for the first time in Test cricket. The historical moment came on home shores at the P Saravanamuttu Stadium in Colombo. Prakash Govindasreenivasan has more.
Entering the Test arena in 1982, Sri Lanka were still rookies, second best compared to their neighbours India, who began playing Test cricket in 1932, five decades before Sri Lanka did. In that sense, they were up against a stronger side. However, Sri Lanka’s achievement on this day in 1985 became a defining moment and a major landmark in the history of the game in the country. It came after the team had played 13 Tests without a win. However, the events that unfolded at the Colombo stadium reduced that statistic to a mere number that would eventually fade away.
Sri Lanka hosted India for a three-match Test series, of which the first one played at the Sinhalese Sports Club (SSC) in Colombo, ended in a draw. There was just a day’s gap between the end of the first Test and the start of the second. The P Saravanamuttu Stadium hosted the second Test that saw the hosts tinker with their bowling unit and give right-arm leg-break bowler Sanjeewa Weerasinghe his Test debut.
The slow start
A score of 168 for one at the end of the first day was, by all means, a slow start for the hosts. Having won the toss and electing to bat, Sri Lanka crawled their way to 16. Amal Silva and Ranjan Madugalle were at the crease when the stumps were drawn.
The second day saw the hosts lose their last six wickets for just 17 runs after Amal (111), Madugalle (54), Roy Dias (95) and skipper Duleep Mendis (51) helped the hosts go past the 300-run mark. They were bowled out for 385. They then picked up three quick wickets to leave India wobbling at six for three at the end of the second day. The visitors, however, recovered on the third day. Opener Krishnamachari Srikkanth and Sunil Gavaskar scored half-centuries to keep India afloat while Mohinder Amarnath was unbeaten on 48 when the day came to an end with India on 210 for six.
After a rest day in between, the two teams resumed action on Day Four which saw the Indian tail being wiped out in no time for 244. This gave the hosts a healthy first innings lead of 141 runs. When the Sri Lankans came out to bat again on the fourth day, they came with the motive of scoring at a good rate and giving their bowlers enough time to bowl out the opposition. Quick-fire knocks from Aravinda de Silva (75) Roy Dias (60 not out) saw Sri Lanka blaze away to 206 for three before Mendis decided to declare. India were set a target of 348 to get in little over three sessions. The first hurdle for the visitors was to get away unscathed at the end of the penultimate day. They did just that and finished on 16 for no-loss.
Rumesh Ratnayake, who picked up four wickets in the first innings, turned the match on its head, just when one thought that India would push for a draw. Ratnayake’s first big wicket of the innings was that of Srikkanth. He then ripped through the Indian middle-order to cause a few concerns for the visitors. From 84 for four, India were reduced to 98 for seven and seemed to be staring at a massive defeat. The mood in the Sri Lankan camp couldn’t have been better. Most of them would have fancied their chances of tasting their first Test victory for Sri Lanka on that day in Colombo.
India needed a hero and Kapil Dev stepped up. He stood tall and strong between Sri Lanka and their first Test win. His defiant display of batting began to worry the hosts and put doubts in the minds of the fans. India were surely out of the game but was Kapil on his way to an unbelievable performance that could rob the hosts of their first win? A lot of anxious spectators would have thought so. Kapil and Laxman Sivaramakrishnan added 70 runs for the eighth wicket and frustrated the Sri Lankans. If this partnership had stayed on any longer, India would have probably escaped with a miraculous draw. However, Ashantha de Mel got rid of Sivaramakrishnan to leave India with just one wicket in hand and Sri Lanka a step closer to destiny. Chetan Sharma, who is not too popular for his technique (or the lack of it) with the bat was the last man in who survived for a long period to add to Sri Lanka’s frustration. Ratnayake, who had four wickets in either innings to his name till that point of the match, sealed the deal by taking a very well-judged return catch off his bowling to bring an end to Kapil’s battle. India were bowled out of 198, giving Sri Lanka a massive 149-run victory.
It was truly a remarkable triumph for a team that was then considered amateur in the world of cricket. Such was the magnanimity of the win that the entire nation celebrated the event. The following day was declared as a public holiday to acknowledge the achievement. As far as the series was concerned, this win was enough for them to clinch the series, as the third and final Test match ended in a draw, giving the hosts a 1-0 victory.
Sri Lanka 385 (Amal Silva 111, Roy Dias 95, Ranjan Madugalle 54; Chetan Sharma 5 for 118) and 206 for 3 decl. (Aravinda de Silva 75, Roy Dias 60) beat India 244 (Krishnamachari Srikkanth 64, Mohinder Amarnath 60, Sunil Gavaskar 52; Rumesh Ratnayake 4 for 76, Saliya Ahangama 3 for 59) and 198 (Kapil Dev 78; Rumesh Ratnayake 5 for 49, Ashantha de Mel 3 for 64) by 149 runs.