Island Collective, 25 March 2012
The First Test between Sri Lanka and England that gets underway tomorrow will be the 12th the tourists will be playing in the country. Thirty years ago, Sri Lanka’s inaugural Test was played at P. Sara Stadium, the venue for the second Test between the countries this time around. In today’s Sunday Island, some of stalwarts who played that game remember the inaugural Test, which Sri Lanka lost by seven wickets.
“We found out that we had been granted Test status in a Yorkshire hotel during our 1981 tour of England. We were very excited and there was huge expectation from both players and fans. In the 1975 World Cup, we had given Australia a real scare. We firmly believed that we were good enough to compete with the best in the world.” – Sidath Wettimuny.
“Facing Bob Willis was quite an experience with that action and that hair. We had faced quicks in Australia but nothing quite like Willis!” – Duleep Mendis.
“I was very nervous, the one thing we lacked was experience against international sides, so there was still an awe of the players you had heard a lot about. Willis was pretty nippy and Botham’s great strength was his unpredictability. He was quite capable of a terrible delivery followed by an incredible one. He had an annoying knack of getting people out with bad balls, which is what happened to me!” – Sidath Wettimuny.
“We never felt the importance of Test cricket as schoolboys but when I was picked to play in the one-day series and then the Test, I realised this was something far bigger than school and club cricket. Nobody was expecting me to perform so there was less pressure on me and I played that game as just another game.” – Arjuna Ranatunga.
“We all knew about Arjuna. I played with him right the way through my career at SSC. Seeing him walking into bat was a matter of huge pride for us because we knew he was going to be a great player.” – Duleep Mendis.
“We didn’t have any speed guns back then, I was running in and bowling as fast as I could. I hit Chris Tavaré on the head and then bowled him next ball. To play the first Test match, bowl the first ball and take the first wicket makes me feel very fortunate.” – Ashantha De Mel.
“We hadn’t played five-day cricket, all we played was club cricket which was two days. We lost the way all of a sudden in the second innings. I put it down to sheer lack of experience because we had England where we wanted and we let it go. I will never forget that passage of play. England knew they were in trouble. They knew we were the kind of guys who would block or attack. We weren’t going to work the ones and twos. John Emburey had an inner ring and an outer ring but nothing in the middle. We fell into the trap.” – Sidath Wettimuny.
“Our spinners were very disappointed. They didn’t bowl quite at their best. If we had scored another hundred runs, I think we could have put England under a lot of pressure.” – Ashantha de Mel.
“It was part of a learning process. We were not professionals, we were amateurs. I had to go back to school after the Test Match and others to their jobs!” – Arjuna Ranatunga.
*** The photograph shows Bandula Warnapura, Gamini Dissanayake and JR Jayewardene at a ceremony prior to the match.
This image as well as photographs from the preceding era are available in Michael Roberts, Essaying Cricket: Sri Lanka and Beyond, Colombo: Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2004 –a coffee table book where there are numerous articles and umpteen pictorial images.
Featuring an anthology of essays by Roberts
- Covering World Cricket, Sri Lankan Cricket politics, Sledging and Chucking
- Comments on partisan TV coverage and cricket team reactions to bomb blasts
- Supplemented by 35 Articles by Guest Authors among them Harsha Bhogle, Peter Roebuck, Mike Coward, Mike Marqusee & Sambit Bal and a range of Lankan authors, names familiar as well as surprising
- A breathtaking collection of 157 photographs
Publisher: Vijitha Yapa Publications, Colombo Web: www.vijithayapa.com
Softcover: ISBN 955-1266-25-0 AUD $65 / pd 25
Hardcover: ISBN 955-1266-26-9 AUD $90 / pd 35
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