By Thilak S. Fernando

Wonderful batting & purposeful bowing, a superb combination of the Willow and Leather made Sri Lankan Cricketers victorious yet again at the Oval in August 1998 winning the first ever Test Match against England in English soil by ten wickets. Sanath Jayasuriya, having scored a double century during the first innings, demonstrated his skills by lashing England pace bowlers yet again during second innings over the ropes and with two massive sixes, one over the cover point which spectators do not get to see very often in cricket. England was crushed in the same manner in 1882 when Australians at the time were known as an Œ unconsidered teamı. After 116 years, history repeated again when Sri Lanka beat them on the same stretch of South London turf taking Œ the glossı out of their somewhat successful summer of 1998.

Sri Lanka is literally still a baby in the eyes of International cricket playing nations. During their sixteen years of playing cricket they have proved their mettle by winning numerous tournaments and becoming World Champions in International Cricket. When they arrived in England this summer they were out of form and had a sticky start. But soon they warmed themselves up and confirmed their stand at the Emirates Triangular Tournament that they were still the champions amidst speculation by the English cricket Lords.

At the single test allocated to them at the Oval they put the English batsmen to the sword especially by the genius Muralitharan by taking nine wickets for sixty five runs on the final day thus making record after record by beating England. Murali (the name commentators loved to call him over and over again) became the first spinner to have taken a record number of wickets in a single test match. No other baller had taken such a number of wickets (16) in single test match at the Oval before and Muralitharan moved into the fifth position of world rating and queued himself behind the international names of J.L. Laker, S.F. Base, Hirwani, and Massie and finally ended up as the ŒMan of the Cornhill Test Matchı.

When England made a staggering 445 runs commentators and critics were quick to point a finger at Arjuna Ranatunge for his decision for letting England bat first according to the ground conditions that prevailed on the first day of the test. But in the wordıs of Arjuna, in reply to David Gower, he had taken decisions for sixteen years and he had to be guided by his Œgut feelingı rather than formalities and accepted norms, which of course did the trick and finally managed to pick up an impressive total of 591runs, particularly assisted by Sanath Jayasuriyaıs double century and Aravinda de Silvaıs century. Another remarkable feature during the first innings was the partnership at the last wicket by Muralitharan and Suresh Perera (43 not out in his debut) showing the world that Sri Lankans are all-rounders even at the lower end of their batting order!

England in their second innings were 138 for eight wickets and their turning point came when Upul Chandana, a reserve player who was covering Arvindaıs injury time, exhibiting a brilliant piece of fielding made a direct hit at the wickets and making Alec Stewart run out and Murali thereafter taking Ramprakashıs wicket just before lunch when he was comfortably settling down to draw the game. Ben Holiok went soon after lunch for Muralitharanıs first ball and by then it became a forgone conclusion that the time that game would be over before tea time. Yet at 3 p.m. England batsmen were hanging on to two more wickets with a score of 162 runs. Finally Sri Lanka bowled them out for 181 runs with 36 overs remaining to score 24 runs for a victory.

It was once again Sri Lankaıs chance to show their skills. By this time it was not a question of losing the game as far as England was concerned but it was a question of whether England was able to take a wicket or two save their face! Sanath Jayasuriya , the double centurion of the first innings smote Fraser for two fours and a six in one over and brilliant six over cover point and a boundary off Ben Hollioake entertaining the spectators who responded with such jubilation, especially the Sri Lankan supporters. Finally Mavan Atapattuıs wrist power to send the ball over the ropes registered Sri Lanka as winners of the test match crushing not only the England cricket team but the ECB hypocrisy that ŒSri Lankans are not crowed pullersı!

After Sri Lanka entered the International scene of cricket they were given only 6 test matches up to now by the ECB and seven years since Sri Lanka becoming the most thrilling team and in 1996 becoming the World Champions the English public had to wait until now to understand that Sri Lanka are not merely one day cricket players .

Even with such performance, it is unlikely that Sri Lanka will get at least three test series until the year 2003! The ECB stand that Œ Sri Lanka are not crowd pullersı will only be seen now as a pathetically over conservative marketing strategy. Today Zimbabwe are the real babies in international cricket and their cricket team still consist of 80-90% white; they have been allowed two test matches in their own grounds and this makes even one wonder whether the ECB are behaving even this day and age as British Raj. It appears that they feel much safer to ask South Africans, who are mainly white, to play a full test series than with Œ little brown men with uncomfortable names to pronounceı! To support such statements one could always ask the ECB why there werenıt a single Sri Lankan commentator at the TV or Radio commentary boxes when Sri Lanka was playing a test match in England?

What does one think of Alec Stewartıs remarks during the Emirates finals at the Sri Lankan wicket keeper Kaluwitharana calling him an Œ AŠ. hŠ..ı. Is this the type of language or the remarks one expects from a captain of England ? Sweeping the issue under the covers without taking any disciplinary action against Stewart makes one wonder whether Cricket in England is still a gentlemanıs game! Taking defeat graciously is the spirit of the game but, in the words of Geoff Boycott at the commentary box supported by David Gower, it was a pity that England coach David Lloyd had to make his feelings known to the authorities, when England was losing, about Mularithanıs ³ unorthodox² action. The ICC has gone thorough that issue before and cleared Murali many moons ago. David Lloydıs only consolation would be that his remarks were deemed by International Cricket Council match referee, Ahmed Ebrahim, not to have broken the code of conduct.

ECB will not be able to be too rigid and hold on to their baseless theories for too long as the public who has seen and heard Sri Lankans playing cricket at the Oval will make ECB change their attitudes and decisions sooner than later. Now it is certain, and whether England Coach likes it or not, soon he and his men will have to learn to cope with the spins, flights and bouncing of Muraliıs destructive bowling in the future too.