Reminiscing Sri Lanka’s greatest Test win

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Sri Lanka’s greatest Test win was achieved on a day like this (31st August) at the London Oval 20 years ago. True that there are other iconic Test wins like Napier 1995, Faisalabad 1995 and Durban 2011. But the win at The Oval 1998 is special for a variety of reasons. That win earned Sri Lanka the respect they richly deserved.

Playing an entertaining brand of cricket, Sri Lanka had won the ICC Cricket World Cup in 1996. They threw caution to the wind, attacking the first 15 overs like the slog overs. Opponents had little idea how to counter Sri Lanka’s new-found self-belief. Their achievements were not acknowledged by the England and Wales Cricket Board, who awarded multiple Tests to lowly Zimbabwe before Sri Lanka.

Skipper Arjuna Ranatunga was fuming and he fired up his troops to play their best cricket to earn the recognition they truly deserved. Mere months after the Oval win, the ECB announced back to back three Test series against Sri Lanka home and away in 2001 and 2002. Watch ThePapare’s Legends segment on Sanath Jayasuriya’s take on The Oval win.

ක්‍රිකට් ලොවේ මාස්ටර් බ්ලාස්ටර් – සනත් ජයසූරිය

වර්ෂ 1989 දී පළමු වතාවට ශ්‍රී ලංකා ජාතික ක්‍රිකට් කණ්ඩායම නියෝජනය කිරීමට වරම් දිනාගත් …

It was Sanath who set up the game for Sri Lanka with the tourists having played catch up for the first two days as England posted 445 thanks to hundreds by John Crawley and Graham Hick.

The Sri Lankan side had several match winners with the bat. Sanath could change the course of a game in a mere session with his audacious strokeplay. He cut and pulled England’s four-pronged seam attack to post a memorable double hundred, to date the only double century by a Sri Lankan in England.

A stint with English county Kent had given Aravinda de Silva a fair bit of knowledge on English conditions and his input on the conditions were vital. Aravinda and Sanath came up with contrasting knocks in a stand of 243 runs. Sanath made 213 while Aravinda contributed with 152. A total of 591 meant that Sri Lanka took a lead of 146 and on a day four wicket, that was a handful.

Bowling had always been Sri Lanka’s weak-link and on this occasion, it was further handicapped. This was the only tour left-arm seamer Chaminda Vaas had to miss due to injury and there was a heavy burden on Muttiah Muralitharan’s shoulders. He bowled marathon spells in both innings – a massive 115 overs in the game to finish with a match bag of 16 wickets. He claimed nine wickets in England’s second innings and the other batsman – captain Alec Stewart – was run out by a direct hit from 12th man Upul Chandana.

Sri Lanka required only 36 runs to win, but time was running out and they had to close shop inside ten overs. England’s seamers tried to use the bouncers to good effect and were bowling wide as well to stop Sri Lanka from securing the win. Such tactics would perhaps work against a team that played the conventional brand of cricket. But Sri Lanka possessed aggression in excess and against a side like that, this was asking for trouble. An airborne Jayasuriya cutting Angus Frazer for a six over point remains an iconic image of the sport, even better than T.M. Dilshan scooping Mohammad Amir for a six to the Lord’s pavilion during the World T-20 in 2009.

Winning a Test match in England was one of Arjuna’s dreams. Aged 34, he knew this was going to be his last tour to England.

The captain had been angered by a succession of events. Firstly, this was the one off Test. Secondly, Arjuna wasn’t happy that Sri Lanka were playing at The Oval rather than at Lord’s, the Home of Cricket. The iconic venue had hosted all Sri Lanka’s previous one-off Tests in England. The comments of England coach David Lloyd questioning Murali’s action also didn’t go down too well with the captain.

Arjuna rubbed salt into England’s wounds at the post-match presentation. Asking why the English and Wales Cricket Board didn’t give his team more than one Test match, Ranatunga said that England were scared of losing 3-0. This remains one of Sri Lanka’s most successful tours to any country. Sri Lanka also had won the tri-nation Emirates Cup one-day tournament involving South Africa and the hosts prior to the Test match.

The first multiple Test series between Sri Lanka and England was played in March 2001, a few months after Arjuna had retired. But he had left Sri Lankan cricket in a better place. Those that came after Arjuna had more opportunities. The manner in which he brought the team together and made his charges to chase their dreams are legendary. Arjuna was to Sri Lankan cricket what Imran Khan was for Pakistan cricket.

The World Cup winning captain will express his views on the iconic win and other memorable moments of his career in The Papare’s new segments ‘Legends’, soon.