Prasanna Jayawardene has perhaps effected more attractive stumpings for Sri Lanka and three decades before him Mahes Goonatilleke was superior according to old timers. But there’s no doubt that the stumping that Romesh Kaluwitharana produced to dismiss Sachin Tendulkar in the 1996 World Cup would be voted as the best stumping ever done by a Sri Lankan if ever there was such a contest.
The reason? Way too many. Tendulkar was the world’s best batsman at that stage. Until that stumping, he had scored 523 runs in that World Cup campaign and was averaging 85. Nobody had scored more runs than Tendulkar in the 1996 tournament. Then the context – it was a World Cup semi-final. Thirdly the location – Eden Gardens in Calcutta. Kalu speaking in our Legends segment, which will be aired shortly, felt that ‘there were 100,000 inside the stadium and 200,000 outside the stadium.’
A gentleman to the core, deeply religious, meticulous with his work, Kalu is known among his peers for his mischievousness. It took a bit of cheekiness to effect this stumping. Kalu had done very little in the game until that point. He had been dismissed for a golden duck as Sri Lanka batted first on a wicket that was turning square. Kalu was waiting to grab his opportunity.
Chasing 251 to win to book a place in the final, India were cruising at 98 for one with Tendulkar on 65. Sri Lanka needed to dismiss the star batsman soon and Sanath Jayasuriya pitched one on the leg-side. Kaluwitharana is not sure what prompted Sachin to step forward but he reckons he must have thought that the wicketkeeper missed the ball.
But Kalu had the ball safe in his hands and in a flash, effected a stumping. It was touch and go. As the decision was referred to the third umpire, everyone waited patiently. After several replays, Tendulkar was given out and there was pin drop silence.
Given the atmosphere in the ground and with communication not possible whatsoever, the Sri Lankan fielders had been told to watch their skipper’s hand signals for field placing. But this was a moment where everything went silent with India’s favourite son heading back to the pavilion.
Kalu told us in The Legends interview that the stumping was crucial because given Sachin’s form at that point, he was one player who could have taken India over the line despite the ball turning square. India collapsed after Sachin’s dismissal losing seven wickets for 22 runs and the game was awarded to Sri Lanka.
In sports all fans take extreme pride when their team beats the big brother and it was the case in Sri Lanka as well. Joy erupted in the streets of Colombo and elsewhere as the Sri Lankans celebrated their team reaching the World Cup final.
More importantly Sri Lanka’s unbeaten record against India in World Cups remained intact. Until the 1999 World Cup, India never beat Sri Lanka in a World Cup fixture.
As for Kalu, the stumping was a result of the tremendous hard work he had put in. Kalu was axed by the Sri Lankan side many times because his wicket keeping was not tidy. There was no question with his batting as he was capable of putting the best of attacks to the sword. Each time he was dropped, Kalu worked harder on his wicket keeping and became a better player.
Kalu’s 206 dismissals in One Day cricket puts him amongst the top ten wicket keepers in the world. Only M.S. Dhoni and Kumar Sangakkara have effected more stumpings than Kalu’s 75.