The Brown Wash, reliving the times of glory…

Image courtesy AFP

The Sanath-Kalu pinch-hitting revelation, Aravinda’s blistering knock in that World Cup semi-final, Kalu’s cheeky stumping of Tendulkar that ended a billion Indian dreams, Ranatunga openly stating that Shane Warne and Mark Waugh were just ordinary players, these will be memories etched in our minds as SL fans for as long as we live.

Free Hit contributor – Shemal Mustapha

It was a time when a minnow nation not only stood up to the mighty Aussies, but got on top of them, trounced them, minced their egos and threw it back at them like overripe tomatoes at the La Tomatina festival held in Spain. Such was Sri Lanka’s dominance at that World cup. There has been much written about it, much spoken about it, and much celebrated about it.

But not many of us remember Sri Lanka’s 2007 World Cup campaign, a world cup campaign that was not as dominant as that in 1996 yet a campaign that re-launched what I would like to call Sri Lanka’s golden generation of cricket.

It was the 1st of 5 ICC finals Sri Lanka came into in a short period of time, 4 of them ended with SL as runners-up and 1 where they ended with the title. How many of us remember that Sanath scored 2 hundreds, 1 fifty, picked up 7 wickets and won 2 man of the match awards in that world cup? Fair enough he didn’t win MVP of the tournament like in 96, but his performance in 2007 was statistically as good as that in 96, if not even better. How many of us remember Farveez Maharoof and Chamara Silva? Two gems of that 2007 campaign, who faded off later to never make a substantial world cup contribution ever again. How many of us remember that Dilshan was a late middle order batsman at the time? How many of us remember that 2007 was also Mr. Russel Arnold’s last world cup?

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We remember the fire set in Kolkata by the Indian fans in 96, yet may not remember homes being burnt in Mumbai, Delhi, and Ranchi when we sent Team India crashing out of the group stages in 2007. We remember Lahore in 96, yet may not remember the Carribean sands in 2007. We remember ‘Chokra’ from 96, do we remember ‘It’s the game of love and unity’ from 2007? The difference between the two campaigns; in one we emerged champions, in the other we were runners-up. The margins were as slim as one victory. The 2007 team were one victory away from being celebrated as much if not even more than that team in 96. Here is a crack at how that campaign in 2007 began, ‘The Brown Wash’, I’d like to call it.

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I was schooling at the time. Sri Lanka weren’t doing too well in cricket and the Test Series against England wasn’t even televised on local television. I remember trying to stream some highlights on the web and giving up when it took more than 10 minutes to buffer 30 seconds of video on my dial-up modem. It was a Test Series in which we managed to draw the first match after having been asked to follow-on and batting for more than two days in the 2nd innings. We lost the second Test match, yet came back to win the third match thanks to a Muralitharan classic. It was a Test Series in which Sanath would make his first ‘coming out of retirement’; a start of many to come later on. Largely due to the team’s success in the Test Series, somehow a new local television channel ‘Derana’ took up television rights for the only T20I and the ODI series. Thanks to Derana we were able to witness history in the making, the first time an Asian Team so clearly dominated an English team.

It is a widely held belief that the Australia Tour in 1995 made SL believe they could go on to win the World Cup in 1996. The equivalent of this for the 2007 campaign in my opinion was this ‘Brown Wash Tour’, where we beat England 5-0 in their own conditions.

Do you believe in such a thing called a blessing in disguise? Well listen to this, before this series Marvan Atapattu was the designated captain to lead SL to the 2007 World Cup, but was out due to a back injury, and thus vice-captain Mahela took up captaincy. What followed from then on, was the emergence of a master tactician, like a magician full of tricks up his sleeve, here we had a man who outwitted opposition, outfoxed batsmen and squeezed them during a run chase with his field placings.

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This series also saw the coming-of-age of Upul Tharanga, whom I believe to date is yet to match his performance in that series. In Marvan’s absence, he made full use of the opportunity to seal his place as the first-choice opening partner of Sanath. Talk about making chances count, a 22-year-old youngster ousted the man who was supposed to lead the nation at the next World Cup.

The other highlight of the series was Sri Lanka’s run chase in the 5th and final ODI. England set up a score of 320 plus, a score considered to be close to impossible at the time. There were finally some smiling faces to be seen in the English Crowd, little did they know that those smiles would turn back to the red pale embarrassment; familiar territory throughout that series. Any hopes of surviving the ‘Brown Wash’ were quickly wiped off. Sanath and UT’s batting on that day was nothing short of cattle slaughter, one by one the bowlers would be brought in to bowl only to be butchered.

Such was the dominance in that ‘Brown Wash Series’, it not only brought smiles to many Sri Lankan fans, it also catapulted an era of Sri Lankan ODI dominance. Mahela and his men were making a statement to the world. It wasn’t the brute authority, command and wily insults of Arjuna. This method was fresh. It was more of an announcement to the founders of cricket that we can beat them in their own game, in their own way, with pure skill, guile and finesse on pitches that are green and in conditions that are overcast; match them stroke for stroke with the same elegance demonstrated by some of their forefathers. Team Sri Lanka, were suddenly discovering newfound respect from the Englishmen.