By Dion Schoorman
Today, 17th February, is the 40th anniversary of Sri Lanka’s inaugural Test match and marked a special milestone in the history of Sri Lankan cricket. That game against England began at the Colombo Oval on 17th February 1982.
On the day of the inaugural Test, the country came to a virtual standstill, with everyone being at the game, including the then-President J. R. Jayewardene, Senior Minister and Cricket Board President Gamini Dissanayake and almost the entire Cabinet (of course the cabinet was not nearly as big as the present day!). Cricket administrators from around the world and former Sri Lankan ‘greats’ were all assembled in the main pavilion of the Colombo Oval – known today as the P Sara Stadium.
In attendance was also a spritely young Percy Abeysekera, who entertained everyone with his theme song of those days: ‘ICC, Sir, when can we call you friend?’ The song referred to Sri Lanka’s long struggle to gain Test status, and ended in typical Percy style: ‘NOW, we can call you friend!’
Late Bandula Warnapura faced Sri Lanka’s first ball in Test match cricket and scored the first run. He became the nation’s first Test cricketer.
There was a carnival atmosphere at the grounds – a special coin had been minted for the occasion and was to be used at the toss. The sponsors Hatton National Bank had produced a special range of souvenirs – the most popular one being the cap with the words “Inaugural Test Match – I WAS THERE!’
It was then time for action and Sri Lankan umpires Herbie Felsinger and Kandiah Francis strolled out to the middle signalling the start of play.
When play began, Sri Lankan captain Bandula Warnapura immediately notched up a set of unique records – he became the first skipper to win a toss, he then faced the first ball and scored the first run. He missed out on the chance to get the first boundary and then had the unfortunate record of being the first dismissal. Sadly, the two players involved in that first ball – the bowler Bob Willis and batsman Warnapura have passed away – Willis in December 2019 and Warnapura just four months ago in October 2021.
The Test followed England’s incredible Ashes triumph of 1981 and opening the bowling were the heroes of the famous Headingley Test – Bob Willis and Ian Botham. The pair bowled with great hostility and gave the Lankans a baptism of fire soon reducing the hosts to 34 for four, with the cream of the batting back in the pavilion, and the team’s two youngest members – Ranjan Madugalle and Arjuna Ranatunga – at the crease.
Old doubts began to surface… Was Sri Lanka ready for Test cricket? Can two schoolboys do what their more experienced seniors could not?
Thankfully, those doubts were soon dispelled, as Madugalle (65) and Ranatunga (54) first dug themselves in playing watchful but steady cricket. As they grew in confidence, the youngsters unfurled a range of attractive strokes all around the wicket. Madugalle hit Sri Lanka’s first six and added three more boundaries whilst Ranatunga struck seven fours as the pair notched up Sri Lanka’s first two half-centuries in Tests in a stand of 99 for the fifth wicket to lift the home spirits. The stand ended when Ranatunga shouldered arms to a ball from Derek Underwood which nipped back into the stumps. Ashantha de Mel (19), and wicketkeeper Mahes Goonetilake (22 not out) helped Madugalle add useful runs and Sri Lanka was eventually dismissed for a slightly disappointing 218. Left armer Underwood was the chief destroyer for England with five wickets.
Sri Lanka were 34 for four in the first innings having elected to bat
first in the inaugural Test match. Schoolboy Arjuna Ranatunga posted
the nation’s maiden half-century.
That score was made to look much bigger when the hosts – led by a fiery Ashantha de Mel – rocked England with some early strikes to have them at 40 for three. David Gower (89) and skipper Keith Fletcher (45) then added 80 for the fourth wicket to restore some order. However, the hosts were not about to give up. Showing great determination and character they maintained the pressure on their more experienced opponents and when Underwood was dismissed first ball England were 216 for nine and in real danger of conceding a first innings lead. That they were able to avoid that ignominy was thanks to wicketkeeper Bob Taylor who remained unbeaten on 31 as England crawled to 223 – a lead of just five runs. De Mel was the pick of the bowlers with four for 70, and was ably supported by veteran legspinner Somachandra de Silva and left arm spinner Asoka de Silva with three and two wickets respectively.
When Sri Lanka batted a second time, skipper Warnapura (38) struck five fours and shared a second wicket partnership of 83 with the elegant Roy Dias who weighed in with a typically silken 77 including 11 fours, and the hosts were strongly placed at 152 for 3, at the end of the third day. At the wickets were Duleep Mendis on 16 and first innings hero Madugalle who had just come in and was yet to open his account. The Sri Lankans clearly had the upper hand and their fans were jubilant and dreaming of a sensational win to mark their entry into Test cricket. Another 150 runs would leave the visitors a tough task on a wearing wicket.
Sadly for Sri Lankan fans, the fairy tale was not to be and instead the fourth day turned into a nightmare for the hosts. The day began well enough as the overnight pair of Mendis and Madugalle moved sedately along and took the score to 167 when suddenly everything started to go horribly wrong. Madugalle who had made just three off 52 balls edged Emburey to Cook and shortly afterwards the other first innings hero Ranatunga was snapped up by Fletcher off Emburey for two. Underwood then had Somachandra de Silva caught by Fletcher for one. Mendis who had made 27 with a six and two fours, tried to hit his way out of trouble but was caught by Willis off Emburey. The hosts lost their last seven wickets for a mere eight runs, to slide from 167 for 3 to 175 all out.
Off spinner John Emburey who went wicketless in the first innings, was virtually unplayable on a wicket assisting spin and grabbed a rich haul of six for 33 off 25 overs whilst Derek Underwood bagged three more wickets to add to the five he took in the first innings for a match bag of eight wickets. England were left a target of 171 for victory and although De Mel dismissed Geoff Cook for a duck, to briefly excite local fans, Chris Tavaré atoned for his first inning duck with a stolid 85 and Gower weighed in with 42 not out to ease their side to a seven-wicket win and break the hearts of the local fans.
Since that first Test, for the last 40 years our cricketers have caused a whole range of emotions over their performances – from gut wrenching disappointments to delirious ecstasies. There has been a lot of angst but there certainly have been magical moments of rapture as well.
(Dion Schoorman covered the nation’s first Test match 40 years ago. Later he went onto become the Bureau Chief of Reuters in Colombo)
Mushfiqur, batters and late Taijul show give Bangladesh tiny advantage
If day three of the first Test in Chattogram belonged to Tamim Iqbal, the fourth day was all about Mushfiqur Rahim. Not only did he become the first Bangladesh batter to reach 5000 runs in Test cricket, his eighth century in the format also made sure Bangladesh stayed ahead in Chattogram at the end of day four.
Mushfiqur’s 105, to go with Tamim Iqbal’s 133, and half-centuries from Litton Das and Mahmudul Hasan Joy helped Bangladesh end their first innings on 465 , and secure a lead of 68 runs in reply to Sri Lanka’s first innings score of 397.
Dimuth Karunaratne and Oshada Fernando then started their second innings steadily before the latter was run out needlessly for 19. Lasith Embuldeniya, the nightwatchman, had a few nervy moments but did his job before being bowled off the final ball of the day by Taijul Islam. At stumps, Sri Lanka had reached 39 for 2, still trailing Bangladesh by 29 runs. Karunaratne was unbeaten on 18, and will be joined by Kusal Mendis, in all likelihood, tomorrow morning.
The start of the day’s play was delayed by 30 minutes because of rain but once play resumed, it did not take long for Mushfiqur to reach the 5000-run mark. He began the day just 15 runs away from the landmark and breached the milestone with a deflection off his gloves down to fine leg shortly after the first drinks break. Adopting a cautious approach, Mushfiqur surged ahead and soon reached his century after lunch, his first in Test cricket in more than a year.
Bangladesh resumed their day on 318 for 3, with Litton and Mushfiqur picking up from where they had left on the third evening. Both batters were cautious but made sure no wickets were lost as Bangladesh reached 385 for 3 at lunch. The Sri Lankan bowlers, much like the third evening, lacked the bite and could not get much out of the surface.
However, the visitors came back well in the second session. Rajitha struck straight after lunch, first removing Litton before uprooting Tamim’s middle stump the very next ball. Litton, in particular, would be kicking himself for missing a third Test hundred after edging an innocuous short and wide first ball after lunch to the wicketkeeper. The ball to Tamim, though, was a good one. Coming back to bat after retiring hurt at tea on the third day, Tamim went for the expansive drive to a fuller delivery. However, Rajitha, bowling from around the wicket, got the ball to angle in and it crept between Tamim’s bat and pad to hit the middle stump.
Shakib, having survived a close chance at short leg, was rattled by a bouncer barrage from Asitha Fernando. He was hit by the pacer on the helmet, and soon after was dismissed going for the pull shot for 26.
Mushfiqur, meanwhile, held his own at the other end even as things started heating up in the middle. There were a few glares and words exchanged with Asitha, but the batter remained firm. He reached his century with a faint tickle off Asitha down the leg side and celebrated wildly.
Mushfiqur’s 282-ball vigil finally ended after tea, when looking to play the sweep against Embuldeniya, he missed the line and found his stumps in a mess. Taijul Islam and Shoriful frustrated the Sri Lankans with a 26-run stand before Asitha sent Taijul back. Bangladesh innings ended on 465 after Shoriful, struck on the hand by a bouncer, retired out.
Sri Lanka toiled away and bowled well in patches, particularly in the middle session on both the third and fourth days. However, a couple of wicketless sessions cost them. Rajitha, who was not even part of the playing XI and came in as a concussion sub for Vishwa Fernando, was the pick of the bowlers, finishing with 4 for 60.
Sri Lanka started their second innings well with both Karunratne and Oshada looking comfortable. However, a direct hit at the bowler’s end from Taijul sent Oshada packing. Karunaratne also had an escape when he mistimed a drive back to Nayeem Hasan, but replays showed the ball had just fallen short of the bowler.
Embuldeniya gave Karunaratne good support, but the surface started to show tricks late in the day with the odd-ball staying low. How Sri Lanka survive the final day remains to be seen.
Tamim century puts Bangladesh in control over Sri Lanka
Opener Tamim Iqbal hit his tenth Test century to help Bangladesh take control on day three of the first Test against Sri Lanka, reaching 318-3 on Tuesday.
Tamim made 133 off 217 balls before being retired hurt due to a muscle cramp. Then, Mushfiqur Rahim and Liton Das put on a 98-run unbroken stand to keep Bangladesh in a commanding position.
Liton was batting on 54 with Mushfiqur on 53 at stumps as Bangladesh cut the first innings deficit to 79 runs.
Sri Lanka were bowled out for 397 in the first innings, with Angelo Mathews scoring 199.
Tamim, who recorded 15 fours, aggressively went after the Sri Lankan bowlers after Bangladesh resumed on 76-0, hitting Vishwa Fernando for consecutive boundaries in the first two balls he faced.
Fernando, who was hit on the helmet during Sri Lanka’s innings, went for a medical checkup after bowling four overs in the morning.
He was later ruled out of the match and Kasun Rajitha replaced him as a concussion sub.
Tamim raised his 32nd Test half-century off just 73 balls, cutting off-spinner Ramesh Mendis for a boundary past point.
Mahmudul was restrained but never hesitated to punish the loose deliveries.
He reached his half-century from 112 deliveries, flicking paceman Asitha Fernando through mid-wicket. Mahmudul was on 51 when he got a reprieve in Asitha Fernando’s next over, with Lasith Embuldeniya dropping a catch at fine-leg.
But Mahmudul (58) couldn’t survive long, hitting a delivery of Asitha that went down the leg-side to give the visitors their first breakthrough.
Tamim, however, continued in attack mode and brought up a century off 162 balls, flicking Asitha for a single through mid-wicket.
Rajitha then troubled Bangladesh for a brief period and got the reward, dismissing Najmul Hossain (1) and captain Mominul Haque (2), leaving Bangladesh at 184 for three.
Mominul has produced five straight single-digit figures and 10 in the last 13 innings.
Tamim and Mushfiqur Rahim helped Bangladesh regain control despite losing three wickets for 22 runs.
But Sri Lanka could have removed Tamim for 114 had Dhananajaya de Silva not dropped him at slip after Tamim went for an expensive drive.
Tamim retired hurt on 133 after suffering from a muscle cramp but Liton and Mushfiqur kept the side going, frustrating the Sri Lanka bowlers further.
Liton in fact played the role of Tamim, going after the visiting bowlers in an aggressive fashion while Mushfiqur was largely watchful.
The contrasting batting approach served the team well and put Bangladesh in a strong position.
Wasim remembered at Galle Face protest site
Yesterday marked the tenth death anniversary of former S. Thomas’ College, Havelock and Sri Lanka rugby star Wasim Thajudeen. Wasim was 28-years-old when his body was found burnt in his vehicle in Narahenpita in 2012. Although his death was initially called an accident, investigations conducted later in 2015 found that he had been in fact murdered. Police claimed that earlier investigations were shelved due to political pressure.
A vigil service was conducted in memory of Wasim at the protest site at the Galle Face Green by the rugby fraternity yesterday.
Wasim’s friends at S. Thomas’ College addressed a large gathering at the presence of his parents and other family members.
Wasim, a former vice-captain of S. Thomas’ College went onto captain Havelock Sports Club and in 2009 become the nation’s Most Popular Rugby player.
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