On September 11, 1999, Sri Lanka won their first Test match against Australia in the 11th encounter between the two sides. Led by Sanath Jayasuriya for the first time, Sri Lanka dominated Australia on all the three days. This remains the only Sri Lankan victory over Australia in Test cricket. Sarang Bhalerao revisits the historic moment in Sri Lankan cricket.
When we look at the head-to-head record of Australia and Sri Lanka in 26 Test matches they have played to date, the island nation has been thrashed more often than not. Out of the 11 Test series played between them, Australia has won 10. They have won 17 Test matches and Sri Lanka only one: that one Test match was played at Kandy in 1999. This was a watershed moment in the history of Sri Lankan cricket, buoyed by the fact that Australia were the number one team in Test cricket at the time.
Sri Lanka rattle Australia
Steve Waugh won the toss and decided to put his team in to bat. The Australian innings began in a disastrous fashion as left-arm pacer Chaminda Vaas trapped Michael Slater plumb in front on the second delivery of the match. The Australian opener played back to a rather full delivery and failed to negotiate the late swing. From the other end Nuwan Zoysa had Greg Blewett leg-before. No 3 Justin Langer followed suit and played Vaas’s away-going delivery with hard hands. The ball flew to the first slip where Aravinda de Silva pouched an easy catch.
Things went from bad to worse as Mark Waugh offered a return catch to Vaas. Mark looked to play an uppish drive off the incoming delivery and Vaas caught the ball in his follow through. At 16 for four, Australia were in deep trouble.
The onus of resurrection was now on Steve Waugh. The Australian top-order failed to vindicate his decision of batting first. The resourceful Ricky Ponting then joined his captain in the middle. Steve batted for close to an hour and looked to counterattack Sri Lanka, but fell soon. He looked to cut Zoysa’s delivery hard but the ball went straight to de Silva at first slip. At 40 for five, the Australian lower middle-order had the responsibility of putting up a decent first innings score.
Muttiah Muralitharan had Ian Healy stumped soon. The ball dipped and drew Healy out of his crease, before going through the gap between bat and pad and ricocheted off wicketkeeper Romesh Kaluwitharana’s chest onto the stumps; Lady Luck was smiling on the hosts. When Zoysa had Shane Warne just before lunch, the Australian innings looked to fall apart. The visitors were slumping to a below-par first innings total.
Ponting and Jason Gillespie then put their heads down and negotiated the Sri Lankan bowling with ease. Ponting, in particular, played the Sri Lankan spinners with intent. He used his feet to smother any spin and was smart enough to stay back and score runs off the short deliveries.
Gillespie’s defence was rock solid. His technique was sorted and he was proving to be an able ally to Ponting. The duo added 107 for the eighth wicket, thus surpassing the previous best against Sri Lanka — a stand of 56 by Greg Matthews and Craig McDermott at Colombo in 1992.
Australia were all-out for 188 and Ponting missed his century by four runs. He was the last man dismissed, caught and bowled by Muralitharan. Gillespie’s 41 was a solid display of grit by a tailender.
Sri Lankan response
Sri Lanka started off well scoring 22 off the first six overs. Sanath Jayasuriya attacked right from the outset. He was dismissed soon as Glenn McGrath trapped the Sri Lankan captain plumb in front.
Marvan Atapattu looked calm and composed. He let go of the balls outside the off stump and played with a loose bottom hand. Russell Arnold too looked in good touch. He was not hassled by the Australian bowling and looked positive right from the outset.
Just before stumps, Colin Miller trapped Arnold leg-before, as the Sri Lankan No 3 offered no shot. Arnold was perhaps too cautious facing Miller in the final over of the day. Sri Lanka ended the day with 69 for two on the board.
The dreadful collision
On the second day of the Test match, play was suspended for six minutes, as helicopters arrived at the venue to transport two injured players — Steve Waugh and Jason Gillespie — to the hospital. The two Australians were involved in a dreadful collision in an attempt to catch Mahela Jayawardene. The Australian captain ran in from square-leg while Gillespie was rushing in from the boundary. The ball fell in between the two of them; Steve’s nose and Gillespie’s leg broke after they collided.
Sri Lanka press home the advantage
Atapattu fell for 25 in the first over of Day Two. After that, de Silva and Jayawardene put 107 for the fourth wicket. The Sri Lankans looked like taking a massive lead but Warne disturbed their plans. He picked up five wickets and was instrumental in keeping the Sri Lankan lead to only 46. Miller picked up four wickets.
The ball was turning a lot. Australia needed to post a good total on the board for their spinners to be effective in the fourth innings.
Australia began the second innings losing wickets in a heap, yet again. After putting up 37 for the first wicket and almost wiping off the lead, Slater was dismissed by Muralitharan for 27. Langer fell to Vaas for five. Mark’s disastrous run in Sri Lanka continued and he was bowled trying to cut Vaas for a duck. Mohandas Menon gave an interesting statistic about Waugh on Rediff.com: “In Australia’s second innings, Mark Waugh recorded his fifth “duck” in six innings on Sri Lankan soil. His scores in Sri Lanka from October, 1992 reads as 5 & 56; 0 & 0; 0 & 0; 6 & 0 — a total of 67 runs (avg 8.38) in four matches and eight innings!”
Yet again, Ponting looked at ease and was playing the spinners very well. Australia kept losing wickets at regular intervals. Blewett, Healy and Warne were dismissed before the close of the second day’s play. Ponting then ludicrously ran out Warne towards the end of the second day; he hit the ball straight to mid-on and called for a single before realising that the run was not on; Warne failed to make his ground. At 89 for six, defeat loomed large over Australia. Ponting was the lone survivor in what was mayhem as far as Australia were concerned.
On the third morning, Miller was dismissed for eight and Australian last man McGrath walked out to bat, since Steve and Gillespie were unfit to bat. Ponting farmed the strike and stretched the lead to 94 runs before being dismissed for 51; he hit a full toss straight to mid-wicket.
History in the making
Sri Lanka tried to take the attack to the Australian bowlers straight away. Atapattu tried to slice McGrath but ended up offering a simple catch to backward point. When Atapattu was out for a duck, Jayasuriya was unperturbed. He was looking for the big shots. He succeeded initially but lost his wicket trying to lift Miller over the top. The ball took the edge of the bat and the ball flew high. It was safely caught by substitute Matthew Hayden at backward point.
Kaluwithrana was bowled by Miller for five. At 39 for three, these were nervous times for Sri Lanka. In 1992-93 they lost a Test match by 16 runs after panicking during the crunch moments. One young man named Warne was part of the Test and had triggered the collapse seven years ago.
It could have been 39 for four. Wisden Almanack reports: “Jayawardene spooned the ball towards cover and bowler Miller gathered it left-handed at ground level after a desperate lunge. Australian celebrations were cut short, however. Umpire Manuel, apparently fooled by a puff of dust from Jayawardene’s bat, believed it had been a bump ball, despite its slow, looping trajectory, and did not choose to consult either his colleague at square leg or the third umpire.”
Jayawardene was dismissed 21 runs later. Warne almost had Arjuna Ranatunga but the chance was spooned at mid-off. Ranatunga then took the attack to Warne. He smashed him for a six over mid-wicket and Australia’s spirits were deterred.
When Warne’s delivery outside the leg-stump was swept by de Silva, Ponting picked up the ball and threw the stumps down. That resulted in an overthrow and it was history as far as Sri Lanka were concerned.
Wisden writes: “Excitement mounted with every delivery, amid rhythmic clapping and wild cheering. The small and picturesque ground was suddenly so full that the crowd spilled out in front of the sightscreen at one end and could not be moved by police. In the end, Sri Lanka scrambled to a six-wicket victory after three days of drama, tension and controversy. It was 14 years to the day since they won their first Test — against India at the P Sara Stadium in Colombo. Well as Australia fought, the better team won.”
This remains Sri Lanka’s only triumph over Australia.
Australia 188 (Ricky Ponting 96, Jason Gillespie 41; Muttiah Muralitharan 4 for 63) and 140 (Ricky Ponting 51; Chaminda Vaas 3 for 15) lost to Sri Lanka 234 (Aravinda de Silva 78; Shane Warne 5 for 52) and 95 for 4 (Aravinda de Silva 31*; Colin Miller 3 for 48) by 6 wickets.
Man of the Match: Aravinda de Silva and Ricky Ponting
(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)