'We dominated for over four days but lost in half a session'
1992. SSC, Colombo. The final day of the first Test of Australia's tour of Sri Lanka. The hosts were set a target of 181 in 58 overs. At 127 for 2, they were on the cusp of their first Test win against Australia. Allan Border, Australia's captain, had won only one Test in the subcontinent in his career. He threw the ball to rookie Shane Warne, playing his third Test - a match that proceeded to turn so comprehensively, Border called it the "greatest heist since the Great Train Robbery".
Arjuna Ranatunga won the toss and asked Border to bat. It was Sri Lanka's first home Test since New Zealand's 1987 tour was aborted after a bomb blast at the Pettah bus station in the heart of Colombo. Going into the first Test, Sri Lanka were positive, having won the first ODI two days before.
Asanka Gurusinha 1992-93 was a big season, with many international sides coming to Sri Lanka. Australia was a tough tour, so to win the first ODI was a shot in the arm for us. There was no pace in the wicket and it assisted seam movement.
Australia's first innings was underwhelming. Their batsmen fell to Sri Lanka's medium-pace bowlers. If not for Ian Healy's grit, patience and ability to bat with the tail, Australia would have ended up with far less than 256.
Chandika Hathurusingha It was my fourth Test match. A few overs before the lunch break, Arjuna asked me to bowl. I forced a nick off Mark Taylor but it was dropped in the slips. Once we were back in the dressing room, Ranjan Madugalle, one of the Sri Lankan selectors, jokingly said that perhaps something was wrong with the pitch, considering I had managed to get an edge off a top-order batsman. I said that if I got another opportunity, I will show what I can do.
We used Grays Cavalier balls in those days, which had a prominent seam, and I got some good movement. After the break Arjuna gave me the ball, which was a surprise. A bigger one was when I got four wickets immediately. David Boon tried to drive through the empty cover region but was caught by [Champaka] Ramanayake at wide mid-off. Dean Jones did not offer a shot and was lbw when the ball seamed back in. Mark Waugh was caught at the wicket when the ball moved the other way. It wasn't just the batsmen who were clueless. Even I was not sure which way the ball was moving.
Before the series we had studied videos of Kapil Dev getting Border bowled. Border had a peculiar grip and was predominantly a bottom-handed batsman. I got this ball to come back in and it bowled him. I still talk about that wicket.
Gurusinha Australia were not used to the ball coming at 120-125kph and seaming as well. Hathurusingha, Ramanayake were not really quick bowlers. They were really good seamers in Sri Lankan conditions. The Aussies thought it would be the slow, low track so prevalent in those times in the subcontinent. But the SSC had reasonable bounce, especially if you pitched it up.
Gurusinha, Ranatunga and Romesh Kaluwitharana made centuries - the first time three Sri Lankan batsmen had done so in the same innings - and Sri Lanka went past the 500-run mark for the first time in their 38 Tests.
Gurusinha I knew my strength was driving off the front foot in the "v". And if it was short, I could pull too. What the Australians tried was to hit the deck very hard. But that was not a good plan. It gave us time to settle down. My instructions were to bat throughout and support my partner. I had a good stand with Arjuna, and then Kalu came and smashed it around.
Ranatunga was especially severe on Warne, taking him for 29 runs from three overs. Gurusinha, who batted for nine hours, added 230 with Ranatunga in what was at the time Sri Lanka's second-highest partnership for any wicket.
Gurusinha Ranatunga was smart and told me he would go after Shane Warne, who was playing one of his first matches. We knew if we went after Warnie, Australia would be one bowler short.
I always enjoyed batting with Arjuna. We had had a 240-run partnership against Pakistan when Imran Khan was the captain, in the 1986 series.
Eventually Greg Matthews got the better of Ranatunga and a nervous Marvan Atapattu found himself on a hat-trick of ducks just before lunch on the third morning. Atapattu had been padded up for 266 minutes and was out first ball. The break for lunch played on the nerves of another youngster, Kaluwitharana, who was making his Test debut.
Romesh Kaluwitharana Immediately after those two wickets fell, they stopped the game for 45 minutes for lunch. Marvan was really upset because it was his third duck in a row and he hadn't yet scored a run in Tests. He was almost crying. I was sitting there for 45 minutes, waiting to go out to play my first Test innings. More than that, I also now had a hat-trick to avoid.
I thought: if the ball is straight, I'll play it, and if it's away from the stumps, I'll leave it. I was definitely nervous, but I ended up hitting 26 fours. I really enjoyed stepping out to the spinners to turn it into a full toss and hitting it in the gap. That's what I had done in a lot club matches. The spinners tossed the ball up to try to get more turn, so that made it easier for me.
Sri Lanka got a lead of 291. On the rest day, Border challenged his team to show "guts and determination". And they did. Every Australian batsman got to double figures in the second innings. Kaluwitharana dropped top scorer Boon when he was on 10, and Matthews battled to score a half-century.
Kaluwitharana It was a massive waste to have dropped that catch, because it came right at me. From the first time I played with Rama [Ramanayake] to the last time, he was someone that I found very difficult to keep to. He moves the ball in the air a lot - even after it passes the batsman, it can move metres to one side. Those days, I didn't watch the ball as well as I should have. You can't do that with Rama - you have to watch it until the last second.
It was not just the dropped catch. Sri Lanka had conceded 58 extras to go with the 32 in the first innings. But no one gave it much thought at the time. Sri Lanka's target was only 181.
Hathurusingha We were all excited. We had been on the field for close to one and a half days, because Australia had batted for a long time. An over before tea, Warne came to bowl. Gurusinha wanted me to take strike, so he said he would take a single. First ball against Warne, he drove to mid-on and started for a tight run. Tom Moody's throw beat me before I could make the crease and I was run out.
The match entered its final session. Sri Lanka were still favourites. Aravinda de Silva, known as Mad Max for his impromptu assaults with the bat, had hit seven boundaries in his 32-ball 37. But 54 runs short of the win, de Silva played a shot that proved fatal to Sri Lanka chances of creating history. Border tore off his hat, and his sunglassess and ran back some 20 yards to take a match-turning catch.
Gurusinha When Ari [de Silva] came in, I told him we had just another 50-odd runs to get in the final session, so let's play normally. We agreed we did not need to bat through the whole session, because we did not need to feel the pressure. Suddenly he hit [Craig] McDermott. Border ran back but dropped him as the ball hit his hand and bounced off. We ran two. The very next ball Aravinda played the same shot and was caught this time. Arjuna came in and drove straight to Border at mid-off, Marvan was bowled, and then Kalu got out. I was left to deal with the situation with the bowlers.
Dean Jones They were 127 for 2, chasing 181. Game over. Then Aravinda ran down the pitch and tried to hit McDermott over the top. Can you believe it he did in a Test match?
Ian Healy At 2 for 125, Tubby [Mark Taylor] at slip had whispered to me, "What can we do to turn this tour around?" Two runs later, AB took a stunning catch, running backward from mid-on, to dismiss Aravinda de Silva and the Test began to spin.
Border regrouped his men and asked his bowlers, especially Warne, to summon their best.
Gurusinha I don't think it was inexperience on our part. The pressure some of our batsmen were under was immense. Marvan was on the verge of another duck, so that was not a good time for him to walk in. I saw the pressure on Kalu's face when he played a half-hearted stroke. Those four wickets in quick succession made me realise I had to go for it. But the message coming from the dressing room was for me to hang around. I actually wanted to go after the bowling, especially when Warnie came around.
It was a remarkable comeback by Australia. Sri Lanka's last eight wickets fell for 37 runs. Matthews took four wickets, but it was Warne's three that clinched the win. It was a career-turning performance for Warne, who had taken only one wicket for 335 runs in Test cricket till then.
Shane Warne We needed four wickets and they needed less than 30 to win. I bowled a maiden first up. They were landing where I wanted them to land. Moie [Matthews] took a wicket next over and I started thinking we were in with a chance. Then next over I took a wicket - my first for the match. Deano ran over and said, "Well done, mate. You're only averaging 160 now." I tried to laugh, but couldn't. I was too nervous. Next up Moie bowled a good over and I took another wicket in my next. "Now you only average 80, Warnie," Deano said. By this stage we needed one wicket to win and they still needed 25 runs. Then came another two boundaries off Mo and things were very tight.
Sri Lanka needed 16 runs with one wicket in hand. Healy missed a crucial stumping. Gurusinha was still there and itching to have a go at Warne.
Healy At nine down, I missed a stumping chance when I came up too early and the ball scuffled away from me, but Warnie got the crucial final wicket in the following over, for which I will always be grateful.
Gurusinha I was facing Matthews, who I had hit for two consecutive fours, both sweeps. Next delivery, the last of the over, I wanted to take a single, but Ranjith Madurasinghe, the last man, was not keen. I wanted to face Warne and I was confident I could get the remaining runs on my own, so I asked Ranjith to get a single. But he pushed the ball straight into the hands of Matthews at mid-off.
Allan Border The Sri Lankans had taken to Shane's new-look bowling. With them needing 30-odd to win, still four wickets in hand, I threw the ball to Warnie. It was a huge gamble. He looked a little shocked to get the ball but said he was ready for the job. We won a Test we shouldn't have and the Warne legend was born.
Jones AB kept telling every bowler what he had to do. "Billy [McDermott], you keep doing this. Moie, you are doing a great job. And you [Warne], you are going to win me the game." He kept pointing to Warnie - he was the man, while we were wondering what was he on.
Hathurusingha We panicked. Actually the word is "excited", because we wanted to beat Australia since we did not have any Test victory against them, and were in a hurry.
It was Border's first victory as captain and only his second as a player in 20 Tests since 1979 in the subcontinent. As Boon and the Australians belted out the "Southern Cross" victory song, metres away the dejected Sri Lankans were left contemplating what could have been.
Kaluwitharana It was like someone had died. We were that downcast in the dressing room. Out of 15 sessions, we dominated 14 and a half but lost the match in half a session. The rooms at the SSC are separated by a flimsy wall. We heard them yelling their victory song, and each time they yelled and shouted in enjoyment, it was like I was being stabbed with a knife in the chest over and over again. I cried.
Hathurusingha At the SSC you have to walk up the stairs to get to the dressing room, which is on the second floor. Marvan was so shattered he never came back. He was crying. Everyone was upset by the defeat but somebody like Marvan was worried about his Test future.
Gurusinha We learned a big lesson. Later that year, against New Zealand, when we faced a target of 70-odd, we got them in 11 overs [14.4] and won that Test. That defeat against Australia taught us to handle pressure.
Jones We went from dragging our heads to an unbelievable victory. It was the most emotions we witnessed in one day. We probably did not give Sri Lanka the respect they deserved.
Warne If that Test had been on television in Australia, it would be remembered as one of the great matches of all time. Those three wickets changed things for me.
Ian Healy's quotes from Hands and Heals (Ian Healy, HarperSports, 2001) and Shane Warne and Allan Border's quotes from Shane Warne: My Own Story (Shane Warne and Mark Ray, Bookman Projects, 1997)