It was 11th September 1985. As the sun was setting over the Colombo skyline, time was turning into the Sri Lankans’ biggest enemy.
The brave and the determined men were striving to make history at the P.Sara Oval after grappling in 13 winless Test matches.
Running in was paceman Rumesh Ratnayake with his trademark headband and whippy action while Indian skipper Kapil Dev was toiling away having made 78. An anxious shot by Dev saw Rumesh’s acrobatic skills resulting in a splendid dive to secure a return catch. The exuberant crowd festooned the Oval with massive roars as history was made in a momentous 149-run win. Three long years and decades of hardship finally ended up in a Test victory. It was a lifelong achievement for the valiant outfit that missed out on many opportunities to taste success.
The Indians toured Sri Lanka in August/September 1985 for 3 Tests and 3 ODIs. The world champions boasted a star studded team led by Kapil Dev which landed in the island following their Benson and Hedges series win in Australia earlier that year. The first Test at the SSC gave the visitors a scare as the Sri Lankans were deprived of an easy win with a modest target of 123 given to be scored in the final 11 overs of the game. At close, Sri Lanka were with 61/4 in 8 overs.
The second Test got underway on the 6th of September at the P.Sara Oval and after winning the toss, Sri Lankan skipper Duleep Mendis decided to take first lease of the wicket. At the age of 17 years and 189 days, schoolboy cricketer Sanjeeva Weerasinghe made his debut for the home side becoming the youngest Sri Lankan Test cricketer in history.
Sidath Wettimuny and Amal Silva’s opening stand of 74 runs gave a solid foundation for the innings and after Wettimuny was run out, Ranjan Madugalle joined Amal Silva to add another 95. At the end of day one, Sri Lanka stood at 168/1.
Day Two: Lions create Havoc in both Departments
Day two began with Chetan Sharma removing Madugalle for 54, but the left handed opener Silva continued his quest to reach a brilliant century. The scoreboard read 229/3 following Amal Silva’s departure for 111 off Shasthri’s bowling.
Captain Duleep Mendis and his deputy Roy Dias initiated the revival with a 99-run stand for the 4th wicket. Mendis’s aggressive approach alongside Roy Dias’s elegant stroke play strengthened the cause for the Lions as Mendis reached a quick fire 51 before being dismissed by Mohinder Amarnath. Roy Dias reached 95 and after his exit a sudden collapse saw the last 6 wickets falling for a mere 17 runs as the Sri Lankans were subdued for 385. Chetan Sharma and Ravi Shasthri shared 8 wickets between them.
The Indian response was in shambles as seamers Ashantha de Mel and Rumesh Ratnayake took charge by capturing their first 3 wickets for 3 runs. Following two catches by Amal Silva, Lalchand Rajput and Mohammad Azharuddin made their way back to the pavilion without bothering the scorers while Ratnayake later removed Dilip Vengsarkar for 1. Absolutely gutted, the only breather for the visitors became the close of play on Day 2 when they were struggling at 6/3.
Day Three: Srikkanth, Gavaskar and Amarnath Rebuild
Despite the earlier carnage, opener Kris Srikkanth began to remold the shattered innings and his support came from the nightwatchman Laxman Sivaramakrishnan. The pair added 76 for the 4th wicket before Srikkanth was dismissed for a hard-fought 64. Shortly afterwards, Ratnayake dismissed Sivaramakrishnan for 18. However, Sunil Gavaskar and Mohinder Amaranath put up a vital partnership to pull India out of danger. Gavaskar scored a patient half ton after surviving for 245 minutes at the crease before Amal Silva stumped him off the bowling of Ranatunga.
Day Four: Sri Lanka gain the Upper Hand
With a precious lead of 141, Sri Lanka commenced their second innings with a more assertive approach. After openers Amal Silva and Wettimuny fell for 11 and 32 respectively, Aravinda de Silva unleashed a characteristically fearless and graceful display with the willow to score 75 off 106 deliveries with 9 fours and 2 sixes. At the other end, Roy Dias cut the mustard with a sterling unbeaten 60-run cameo. Sri Lanka declared at 206/3in 53 overs, setting India a target of 348. Dev, Sharma and Shastri shared one wicket each.
The day ended with India at 16/0 paving the way for an eventful final day.
Day Five: A Moment to Remember
The home team struck early as India lost both their openers Rajput and Srikkanth for 12 and 25 as de Mel and Ratnayake trapped both of them while Vengsarkar’s dismal game ended when he departed for a duck, caught behind by Amal Silva off Ratnayake. At 41/3, Azharuddin teamed up with Gavaskar to ferry India out of trouble but the 43-run stand was impeded by de Mel’s pace as Azharuddin was forced to leave the crease at 25. No sooner, Gavaskar too joined him as Ratnayake dismissed him for 19.
The pursuit was in dire straits, as Ratnayake’s fine bowling saw the back of Amaranath when the scoreboard read 98/6 and adding insult to injury, one of the last recognized batsman Shashtri was halted for 4 by Ahangama. The Lankan seamers were running riot as the formidable batting line up was left in crumbles. The lone fighter and skipper Kapil Dev was on a tussle to prevent an inescapable defeat and was briefly assisted by Sivaramakirshnan with a70-run partnership. The duo seemed to delay a Sri Lankan win before Amal Silva took his 5th catch in the innings to dismiss Sivaramakrishanan. He was followed by Viswanath leaving India 169/9. Kapil Dev refused to surrender as he guarded Chetan Sharma and pursued survival. In a last wicket partnership which annexed another 29, Sharma remained on 0.
Finally, the moment arrived in the 67th over when Ratnayake plunged to take an excellent one handed return catch off Kapil Dev’s bat, proclaiming the end of a long awaited dream since gaining Test status. It was a strong statement by the youngest Test nation at that time, a portentous triumph that affirmed the ‘never say die’ attitude of a resolute and talented team which was battered by repeated defeats.
A National Holiday by HE
As a nation celebrated a momentous rejoice, HE J.R Jayawardene the Chief Guest present at the occasion declared the following day as a national holiday. Amal Silva rightfully earned the ‘Man of the Match’ award for his scintillating century in the first innings and glove-manship which accounted for a record 9 dismissals. Rumesh Ratnayake’s mastery earned him 5 scalps in the second innings while Saliya Ahangama and Ashantha de Mel collaborated with the remaining 5 wickets in a fast bowler’s paradise. The trio contributed to 19 out of the 20 Indian wickets which fell during the game. Sri Lanka went on to draw the third Test thereby sealing their first ever Test series win.
Formula 1 legend Ayrton Senna once stated, “Winning is a unique thing, it’s like a drug. It is something so strong and so intense, that once you experience it, you keep searching for it all the time”. A saying which perfectly correlated with Sri Lanka’s consequent thirst for victory and success in the next 30 years, a thirst that was first quenched on that fateful evening at the Oval.