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When Wettimuny drove and Mendis hooked

England expected to bounce Sri Lanka out in the Lord's Test in 1984. Instead they were met with a defiant side whose batsmen put on a show to remember

Interviews by Andrew Fidel Fernando

June 13, 2014

Comments: 17 | Text size: A | A

Sidath Wettimuny: "I felt my mind and body were in perfect harmony" © Wisden Cricket Monthly

Two years after being admitted into the Test arena, Sri Lanka played their first match at Lord's at the end of the 1984 summer. Though ultimately a draw, the match would showcase Sri Lanka's defiance, and deflate England further after a dispiriting season.

Jonathan Agnew: It was a strange game really because it was coming off the back of England having been beaten up 5-0 by West Indies. Suddenly, up popped this one-off game against Sri Lanka, and there was little doubt that England's players didn't have much of an appetite for it. I did - it was only my second game. And I also think a number of people totally underestimated Sri Lanka.

Roy Dias: We had a good lead-in to the match, because Sir Garry Sobers was coaching us at the time, and we also got a little help from Lord Ted Dexter, who was my favourite cricketer when I was a kid. I used to look at his technique in magazines and work on copying him in the garage. We had a few side matches with counties, in which we did quite well.

Sidath Wettimuny: In our time, we had a lot of pressure going into a Test match because we had quite a few one-off Test matches.

How it works is, you may have a very good pre-Test run - which I did. I got 75 the game before the Test match, and the next day I remember reading John Snow saying, "Watch out for Sid" in one of the papers. But it means nothing if you have a bad game in the Test. In a three-Test or a five-Test series, you know you have a chance.

Agnew: There was definitely a feeling that England would knock them over. I remember Ian Botham being bullish, particularly about bowling bouncers at them. He was always like that with everybody, but I do remember the team meeting pretty much featured Ian talking about how we would bowl bouncers and catch them out hooking.

On the first day the teams arrived to a seemingly flat surface, under blue skies. England captain David Gower won the toss and put Sri Lanka in.

 
 
"Botham tried to bowl offspin because he just couldn't get Duleep and Amal out" Roy Dias
 

David Gower: The toss? Oh, God (sighs). When we got to the ground, Peter May, chairman of selectors, had an idea it might be a swinging day. As captain I had the right to overrule Peter May but in a summer where we'd been beaten into submission, my confidence in my own abilities was a little low.

Agnew: The conversation about the toss was bizarre actually, because it was a very flat pitch and a beautiful day. David was a county team-mate, and I was amazed that he was talked into putting Sri Lanka in. It seemed astonishing really. It goes back to England feeling our fast bowlers would blow them away, because Sri Lankans didn't like fast bowling very much. I had actually played against Sri Lanka quite a few times before that Test match - for Lancashire. I knew quite well that though the Sri Lankan batsmen were short in stature and were quite slight, that didn't make them an easy pushover for fast bowling.

The players made their way on to the field, but before they could begin, there was a disturbance.

Graeme Fowler: I remember our opening bowler was about to run in to bowl and there was a pitch invasion, when a number of protesters ran on to the ground and lay flat on the pitch. Dickie Bird was umpiring and he was making a big show about telling these blokes to get off. He was sort of almost lying there, in an attempt to protect it. Only Dickie would have done something like that.

Wettimuny: Cricket is a funny game, you know? There's a lot in the mind. Just as I was taking guard and completely pumped up, and I could feel my heart beating, there was a huge invasion - an anti-Sri Lanka protest. I was thinking, "Hell, I hope I'm not going to get stabbed or hit or whatever." We couldn't figure out what it was.

I backed off for a minute and went towards the slip cordon, and the slip cordon started talking to me, asking, "What's this all about?" I was trying to say what I thought it was. During that three or four minutes when the police came in and dragged these guys out, I felt all the stress in my system left me. It's purely psychological, you know. For those few minutes we were one; the fielders were talking to me, I was talking to them. The whole tension of the game left me. Then I took my guard again.

England had Sri Lanka at 43 for 2 in the first session, before the visitors put their stamp on the match after Dias came to the crease.


An unamused Dickie Bird  looks on as Sri Lankan protesters are removed, England v Sri Lanka, Lord's, August 23, 1984
Dickie Bird looks on unamused as protesters take over his turf © Getty Images
Enlarge

Dias: I don't even remember the Long Room experience and so on, because I was very tense. It was a huge occasion for us. Words were not coming out for me when I came to the pitch. You have that tension after losing a couple of wickets. Sidath and I usually had a pretty good understanding because we played together at SSC as well. I remember us both being very nervous. We didn't try to tell each other to do this or do that. We just tried to comfort each other.

Wettimuny: Every batsman has those days when your mind is really focused and you're on top of your game. There are days when your feet move beautifully but your mind is not quite there. That was one of those days when I felt my mind and body were in perfect harmony. I was just flowing. I think we somehow raised a few eyebrows and got people to recognise us as a force to be reckoned with in the future.

After a promising stand of 101, Dias hit Pat Pocock straight to Allan Lamb at cover. He was out for 32.

Wettimuny: It was a real shame that Roy Dias got going twice and couldn't get beyond the 30s. It was an unusual tour for Roy, because he would get to 20 or 30 in style, and then something happened and he was getting out. Roy being such a beautiful player, it would have been lovely to see him get runs as well. He just didn't have the luck.

Dias: Even though I didn't do well individually, that 100-run partnership was important for us. It settled the innings after the start. I'm glad I could contribute to that.

Wettimuny would continue in partnership with Arjuna Ranatunga and Duleep Mendis, who hit 111 off 143 balls. It quickly became clear Sri Lanka would not be beaten easily, as the hosts had hoped.

Wettimuny: Arjuna never got overawed by who he was facing or what the occasion was. He had that confident air about him. He batted beautifully, and was very unlucky to get a good ball. Surely deserved a hundred.

Agnew: I don't think there was really the kind of anger that there should have been at having put the opposition in on this pitch. All these players who had been around for most of the West Indies series - I don't think they were totally on the job. They were mentally crushed, actually. By that stage of the summer, they were just beaten in every sense. That's not an excuse, but perhaps a reason why England didn't do well in that Test.

 
 
"I was amazed David was talked into putting Sri Lanka in. It seemed astonishing really. It goes back to England feeling our fast bowlers would blow them away, because Sri Lankans didn't like fast bowling very much" Jonathan Agnew
 

Wettimuny: England made two mistakes, I think. They kept bowling outside the off stump to me, thinking that I'll edge, because I was square-driving a lot, so they kept feeding me there. The first ball they bounced at Duleep, he didn't look very gainly the way he played that first shot. They thought he was very vulnerable against bounce, and then they started bowling short at him. So he just kept hooking it all day. Botham wasn't saying much to me but he was going on at Duleep, and Duleep would be giving it right back.

Agnew: Every time we bowled a bouncer it went into the stands. It was a very short boundary to one side. Whenever Botham bounced Duleep Mendis, for instance, the man on the boundary would see the ball disappear over his head.

Fowler: It wasn't unusual for Botham to try something like that. Often it worked, but sometimes it would go the other way. He always felt that if nothing was happening, we needed to generate something ourselves to get some traction. That was his attitude.

Dias: We knew that there was a tussle between Botham and Duleep, and Duleep was coming out on top every time. I think Botham became quite frustrated. It was a lot of fun to watch from the dressing room. Everyone was sitting there in a good mood, and we would feel happier every time Botham tried to attack Duleep and the ball crossed the rope.

Agnew: The bowlers kept going off and on the field, and myself and Paul Allott must have been the only two to stay on the whole time. We just kept trundling away and these two just kept on batting. What was worse also was, on the second day we had to play in the dark. It was very dark. I was fielding near Dickie telling him how dark it was, but then he says, "I know, but look at the way they're playing." He offered them the light and they said no.

Wettimuny: When Duleep had come in to bat he told me, "Look, you've got to stay till the end of the day. I'll play my usual style." So I was happy to take a back seat and watch him bat. But I think I made a mistake in not going for my double on the second day. Because by the time it came to the next day, I was stiff, I was tired, and I wasn't moving as well. In those days we didn't have physios or anything like that, so batting for two days was tiring.

Wettimuny was eventually out the following morning for 190, but he had been kept going, in part, by Pakistan batsman Mohsin Khan, who had made a Lord's double-ton two years earlier.

Wettimuny: Mohsin was friendly with my older brother Sunil, and his support was one of the most special things I experienced. I still remember him ringing me before the match in the dressing room. He said, "Hello, I'm Mohsin, I'm calling from Manchester. You're going to get runs, and I'll call you at lunch." And he kept calling me at every break, saying, "I'm going to talk to you at tea, and I'm going to talk to you at stumps, and you had better be there." I thought that was very, very sweet of him, basically telling me, "I got a double there and I want you to get a double there."


Duleep Mendis on his way to a hundred  against England, England v Sri Lanka, Lord's, August 28, 1984
Duleep Mendis took on Ian Botham's short-ball challenge and smacked 111 and 94 © Wisden Cricket Monthly
Enlarge

Sri Lanka were eventually all out for 491 on the third day. England's chance of winning the Test had weakened substantially. Agnew: England just went to bat out time, and were resigned to the disappointment of a draw. It had already gone horribly wrong. England got 376, which was not bad considering they were 218 for 5. The batsmen were beaten out of form during the summer.

Dias: Once we got that score, we thought, "We just can't lose this game." That was the focus. We always wanted to play safe. We didn't want to get carried away and give too many runs. That would put us under pressure. Everyone just bowled to their field.

Aravinda de Silva: We had them under pressure but our mindset was such that when we started, we were happy with a draw. Only once you know how to win games does that become a habit. It took a few more years for us to win a few matches and really learn how to turn good positions into winning results.

Agnew: Allan Lamb hit a hundred and he was the one batsman to have emerged from that summer with credit. From what I remember, it was a pugnacious, counterattacking innings. It was a typical Lamby innings, with England on the back foot.

Wettimuny: We had them on the ropes at 218 for 5 when Allan Lamb edged a ball, and it was coming straight to me at first slip. Amal Silva attempted to catch it and missed. If he was caught at that time, they would have been 218 for 6, and it could have been a different story, who knows?

England conceded a lead of 121, but with only one day to play, Sri Lanka were satisfied to bat out the match. There was more joy for the visitors, however, with wicketkeeper-batsman Amal Silva hitting a hundred and Mendis clobbering 94 from 97 balls.

Agnew: I remember going out to bowl in the second innings and the television was on in the dressing room. The commentators were saying, "This is a big morning for Agnew, the India tour is coming up and he needs to get some wickets." That pressure really got to me then. I lost it, trying too hard, really. I should have just been relaxed, but I was charging in and I blew my chance.

Dias: Although we had a lead we just thought we had to bat normal. They were trying to test Amal Silva with the short ball and he never got caught in the trap. He was pulling, hooking, pulling, hooking, and he got most of his runs that way. When the bowlers tried to change the length, he just drove. Botham tried to bowl offspin because he just couldn't get Duleep and Amal out.

De Silva: Duleep was a player that I always liked and enjoyed watching. A lot of people blamed him for playing rash shots and so on. To me, Duleep's approach was always better than being too defensive, because he got on top of the bowlers and dominated. That was how I have always wanted to play.

Agnew: Botham took six wickets in the second innings, bowling offspin - so that's what he thought of it. So he made his feeling pretty clear about the whole thing. Allan Lamb bowled, Tavare bowled. It was a horrible Test really. One of those games you want to draw a veil over.

I imagine it's completely opposite to how the Sri Lankans were feeling - it was an absolute triumph for them - a validation of their Test status. It showed people what very fine players they are. They were a bit thin on bowling in those days. They didn't have a standout bowler. But batting-wise, I always knew what very fine, orthodox players they were.

Dias: We were very satisfied with what we had achieved because we felt we showed the standard of Sri Lanka's cricket. We had a lot of Sri Lankan support, and the English crowd was also won over. They saw some good cricket that they appreciated. We took pride from that, and celebrated in our own way after the match.

Andrew Fidel Fernando is ESPNcricinfo's Sri Lanka correspondent. @andrewffernando

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by gularan on (June 17, 2014, 23:54 GMT)

Give us a similar article on the 1996 world cup win please with interviews from all the gurus etc especially Warnie,tubby Taylor and co.

Posted by flickspin on (June 14, 2014, 10:59 GMT)

if you look at the averages of the 1984 sri lankan squad they are very similar to the current bangladesh team

a ranatunga had 4 centuries from 93 test, you wouldnt last very long with those figures today.

30 years later sri lanka have some of the best players in world cricket

every generation sri lanka improve. they produce alot players who have not read the coaching manuals and play in thier own individual style, great to watch

i just wish bangladesh and zimbabwe were giving time to develop like sri lanka

zimbabwe have shot them selves in the foot with bad administration and because of that thier cricket standards have dropped, all you can ask of bangladesh is they imporove with every generation

zimbabwe have lost all the cricket expertise with half thier team from the late 90's have moved abroad

who knows in 10 years bangladesh will be the next sri lanka.

sri lanka is a true success story, i wish them the best

Posted by Kotuwegogoda on (June 14, 2014, 4:07 GMT)

Andrew,

I remember seeing this match recorded in VHS good old days and enjoyed every bit of it. Sidat's innings was simply classy while Duleep's was audacios.

It will be seldom one comes across another pair to emulate same feat.

Posted by Marcian on (June 14, 2014, 3:58 GMT)

I remember listening to ball-by-ball commentary on SW radio [BBC] as a teenager. The Lord's Test in '84 was epic for SL: Mendis smashing England bowlers all over the park for 4s, especially hooking Botham for three 6s was memorable and still remains one of my fondest memories as a youngster. Good article - nice to stroll down memory lane.

Posted by   on (June 13, 2014, 23:24 GMT)

This is Cricket journalism at its best. Really enjoyed reading it. Never knew this side of Mohsin Khan!

Posted by Gloryof96 on (June 13, 2014, 17:59 GMT)

@ Laurie Johnson, agreed, but Tavare did well during the previous season V NZ. A unique batting stance. I was actually hoping the Sri Lankan born Gihan Mendis of Lancashire to be given a go, he did well opening.

To be honest, Eng were more tired when they faced SL after the WI series, the following season in IND did little well since it was followed by another 5-0 (back-to-back) V WI in WI.

I wish Eng persisted with Richard Ellison for few more matches!

Looks like this Lord's pitch is a batting paradise, so far more than 700 runs for the loss of 10 wkts at 4 runs an over!!!

Posted by   on (June 13, 2014, 10:20 GMT)

@Gloryof96, I wouldn't say Tavare and Fowler were the only openers available. After all, Broad was opener in this game with Fowler, and Tavare was batting first drop most of the time at that stage. Butcher, Slack, Benson, were all playing at that time and scoring just as heavily in domestic games as Broad. Robinson was also scoring runs domestically at this time, and made his Test debut in the next season, so the selectors had plenty of options.

Posted by vatsap on (June 13, 2014, 9:59 GMT)

super piece. Mohsin Khan calling Wettimuny ...can happen only in an amateur area. What a game. Sri Lanka doing well in England will be good for Test cricket.

Posted by LankaPuthra on (June 13, 2014, 9:41 GMT)

Around '89 after his retirement, Sidath was invited to play for a local club made up of weekend cricketers. They arranged a match with the university team I was playing in; a 40 over game played in Mitcham, south London. Many came to see Sidath's single handed decimation of a poor university team. His bowling too was far superior to the best bowlers either team had. They batted first. He came in @3. We braced ourselves for the thrashing of our lives. But wait, the second ball he faced was slashed to our slip cordon. The ball stuck in the fielder's hands. Wisden Cricketer of the year, Lords Centurion Sidath Wettimuny was out for a DUCK against a team of college kids! How hilarious. The spectators were thoroughly disappointed. His bowling, at least, made sure they didn't lose the match. The score cards remained unexpectedly balanced and we lost only by just a few runs. But just like Sri Lanka would have felt at that inaugural Lords Test, we felt we had won! We all had a hearty laugh.

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