Sri Lanka celebrates 20th anniversary of greatest Test win ever


Muttiah Muralitharan was the Man of the Match at The Oval 20 years ago taking a match-haul of 17 wickets including nine wickets in the second-innings as Sri Lanka won a Test match in England for the first time. (Files)

by Rex Clementine

Sri Lanka’s most famous Test win was achieved on a day like this 20 years ago at the London Oval when the national cricket team completed a comprehensive ten-wicket win in fading light. It was Sri Lanka’s maiden Test win on English soil.

Reigning limited-overs World Champions, the Sri Lankan side comprising captain Arjuna Ranatunga and coach Roy Dias had been angered at the English and Wales Cricket Board continuously providing the team only a one-off Test series. Even the fact that Sri Lanka had revolutionised the sport playing an entertaining brand of cricket to win the World Cup wasn’t looked at too favourably by the ECB. Ranatunga in particular was fuming as the Test had been allocated to The Oval and not Lord’s.

This was Ranatunga’s biggest test to claim that his country deserved more than just one Test match.

Thankfully for Sri Lanka, the Oval pitch spun. Asked whether Muttiah Muralitharan would be able to spin on this wicket, Team Manager Ranjit Fernando tongue in cheek said that Murali would turn on the M4 (the highway from London to Wales).

Murali took 16 wickets in the game including a nine-for in the second-innings (captain Alec Stewart was run out).

The Sri Lankan captain’s decision to put England in after winning the toss looked bizarre. He was criticised heavily. But Arjuna being Arjuna argued that after batting first and presumably with a big total on the board, Murali would be too tired if Sri Lanka were to enforce the follow on. He was being cocky, Arjuna’s critics argued.

Arjuna had few supporters when England posted 445 in the first-innings. Not often teams lose after scoring 400 plus in the first-essay.

But it helps when your opening batsman is one ‘Sanath Teran Jayasuriya’. He smashed England’s four-pronged seam attack to all corners of The Oval. Sanath hit a double-hundred, still the only double century in England by a Sri Lankan. His 213 contained 34 boundaries.

While Sanath put the bowlers to the sword, Aravinda de Silva came up with a majestic 152 to boost Sri Lanka’s total to 591.

England had a deficit of 145 runs and found Murali tough to handle on the final day and collapsed. They were bowled out for 181, setting Sri Lanka a target of 36. But time was running out. Sri Lanka had only ten overs to knock off the target. England adopted underarm tactics, bowling wide and bouncing the batsmen. This was child’s play for Jayasuriya and asking for trouble too.

The left-hander cutting Angus Fraser for a six over point while still airborne remains an iconic image of the sport. That shot and the win will remain in the memories of Sri Lankan fans forever.

After the game, Ian Botham at the post-match presentation asked Arjuna why his team was only given one-off Tests by England.

"Well, England know that if they give us three Tests they will lose all three," said Arjuna. Lord’s heard it loud and clear. That was the end of one-off Test series in England. There will be some celebrations going on tonight at Arjuna’s house to reminisce the iconic win 20 years ago. All his ‘boys’ will be present there as well.

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