Norman de Mesquita
Toss: England. Test debuts: England - K.J.Barnett, D.V.Lawrence, P.J.Newport, R.C.Russell; Sri Lanka - A.W.R.Madurasinghe, M.A.R.Samarasekera.
England's dismal run of eighteen Test matches without a win had to end sooner or later, and when Sri Lanka, put in, were 63 for six nine minutes before lunch, there was much talk of the match being over no later than Saturday, with the England players returning to their counties for the next round of four-day Championship matches due to start the following Tuesday. In the end, Sri Lanka kept them at the ground until after lunch on the final day.
It was certainly an undistinguished morning for the Sri Lankans. Silva, dropped at the wicket off Lawrence in the sixth over, was less fortunate in the seventh when he gave Russell, one of four new players in the England team, a more straightforward chance. Lawrence, who bowled with speed and hostility, Newport and Barnett were the other newcomers. Sri Lanka had two new caps in Samarasekera and Madurasinghe, and it was the former who was next to go, having spent more than half an hour at the crease without scoring. Meanwhile Kuruppu had been looking anything but the compiler of the slowest-ever double-hundred. He had scored 46 of the first 49 runs off the bat when he gave Gooch an easy chance at second slip and Newport his first Test wicket. The same combination disposed of De Silva, and two leg-before decisions accelerated the Sri Lankan decline.
The first hour of the afternoon went better for Sri Lanka until Mendis, playing with increasing flamboyance, was caught in a well-baited trap at deep third man. It was an injudicious shot, and was made to appear more so as his team slipped to 130 for nine. Unexpectedly, when Labrooy joined Ratnayeke, England met the first show of genuine defiance. In 86 minutes they added 64 for the last wicket, a record for Sri Lanka against all countries, with Labrooy surprising perhaps even himself with the quality of his strokeplay. He straight-drove Lawrence for one of his six boundaries and the partnership caused Gooch to make five bowling changes in 21 overs before Pringle eventually took the wicket.
If the Sri Lankan batting had been disappointing in the morning, their bowling was even more modest. The England openers appeared to have the opportunity to score at will, and so it was a surprise when Robinson, changing his mind halfway through the stroke, chipped Ratnayeke to mid wicket. With only sixteen deliveries remaining in the day, Russell appeared as night-watchman. On Friday, he outscored Gooch 35-30 during the first session, albeit having much more of the strike, and it did not come as a surprise when Gooch was the first to go having batted for four hours nineteen minutes and faced 194 balls for his 75.
This heralded the arrival of Barnett, who was soon into his attractive stride as well as nursing Russell through hitherto uncharted territory - the 80s and 90s. Impatience was the downfall of Russell. When only 6 runs short of what would have been his maiden first-class century, he chased a wide ball from Labrooy and was caught at cover. He had faced 202 balls in 277 minutes at the crease and his 94 included eleven boundaries. Barnett and Lamb (75 balls) were both out when a century seemed there for the taking, and Smith must have been disappointed when he deflected a very wide ball on to his stumps. Even more disappointed was Emburey, who came into the match with a Championship hundred behind him but holed out at cover.
It was a tribute to the perseverance of the Sri Lankan attack that England were bowled out and a tribute to their determination and technique that they batted so much better in the second innings. At the press conference held at the start of the tour, both the captain and manager had said that Sri Lankan cricket had regressed during the past four years because of their having played so few Test matches. Their ghastly experience of the first day was obviously put to good use on the third and fourth days. At times, the England captain appeared concerned as to where to next wicket was coming from. Samarasekera (110 balls, one six, seven fours) and Ranatunga particularly batted very well, and Ranatunga could feel hard done by as three straight drives, two off the front foot and one off the back, struck the stumps at the far end, almost certainly depriving him of a dozen runs. As it was, there were ten fours in his 78 from 181 balls, and Mendis struck eight fours in his 98-ball half-century.
Sri Lanka restored their pride and won many friends with their second-innings display. They certainly frustrated England by taking the match into the fifth day. The end was not without its bizarre note as the players went to lunch with England just 1 run short of victory when most people on the ground thought that the clock had not quite reached one o'clock. Gooch had been an hour and a half over his 36 while Robinson was still there on 34, having batted for two hours twelve minutes and received 109 balls. When play resumed, only four deliveries were required before Smith struck the winning boundary and England won a Test match at Lord's for the first time in five years.
Men of the Match: England - P. J. Newport; Sri Lanka - J. R. Ratnayeke. Attendance: 31,855; receipts: £250,418.
Close of play: First day, England 47-1 (G. A. Gooch 24*, R. C. Russell 2*); Second day, England 278-3 (K. J. Barnett 55*, A. J. Lamb 20*); Third day, Sri Lanka 92-2 (M. A. R. Samarasekera 30*, P. A. De Silva 15*); Fourth day, England 8-0 ( G. A. Gooch 1*, R. T. Robinson 4*).