Can Sri Lanka weave their magic again at The Oval?


The Oval in London will host Saturday’s World Cup fixture between former champions Sri Lanka and Australia.

Rex Clementine in London

There will be a smile or two on the Sri Lankan faces upon returning to London where the weather is milder compared to the bitterly cold Bristol and Cardiff where the temperature at times reached single digit. In Bristol particular, the players were confined to indoors as the unseasonable weather saw 100 millimeters of rain within 24 hours whereas in the whole of June 2018 there was just two millimeters of rain. June is United Kingdom’s third driest month.

Both their games against Bangladesh and Pakistan were washouts without a ball being bowled and the points were shared. On Saturday, a large number of Sri Lankans are expected as they take on defending champions Australia.

London has two iconic cricket grounds and Lord’s at St. John’s Wood is the more famous one. The Oval, situated a few kilometers away from Lord’s in the suburb of Kennington, where former champions Sri Lanka and Australia will play on Saturday, has a proud history too, having hosted England’s first ever Test match in 1880.

The Oval is Surrey’s home ground and this is where the county’s overseas signing Kumar Sangakkara for three seasons rewrote record books bringing a glorious end to his prolific career.  In his last season for the English county, Sanga scored almost 1500 runs in 16 First Class games with eight hundreds and averaged over 100.

The Sri Lankans have always enjoyed The Oval. From Duleep Mendis’ heroics in the inaugural World Cup to Kusal Mendis’ stunning counterattack against the Indians during the Champions Trophy two years ago are etched in the memories of local fans.

In 2017, set a target of 322, Sri Lanka chased it down with seven wickets and eight balls to spare. It remains the highest successful run chase at The Oval. Mendis, who has managed just two runs in this World Cup, was prolific on that day. There was a hundred for the taking for the number three bat, but he was run out for 89 in the 33rd over and it was left for Angelo Mathews, another player who has failed to click this tour, to finish it with an unbeaten half-century.

The Oval was also the venue for Sri Lanka’s maiden Test win in England in 1998. An airborne Sanath Jayasuriya square cutting Angus Fraser for six remains an iconic image of the sport. Muttiah Muralitharan ran through England claiming nine wickets in the second innings and 16 for the game as Sri Lanka completed a ten wicket win in style.

In the post match presentation, skipper Arjuna Ranatunga rubbed salt into the English wounds saying that the England and Wales Cricket Board was giving his team only one  off Test series as they were scared of being whitewashed. Cricket was never the same again as Lord’s announced back to back three match Test series for Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka and Australia have played nine World Cup games so far and the Aussies have lost just one game. Everyone would remember that game played on the 17th of March 1996 when Sri Lanka became World Champions.

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