Toss: Sri Lanka. Test debuts: Sri Lanka - All; England - G.Cook.
Although they were beaten five minutes from the end of the fourth day, following a headlong collapse in which seven wickets fell for 8 runs, Sri Lanka did enough in their first Test to show they deserved elevation to full membership of the International Cricket Conference. Apart from the frustration when, in threequarters of an hour, Emburey destroyed their hopes with a spell of five for 5, the only disappointment of a long-awaited moment in the island's history was the smallness of the crowds. On only two of the four days was the 25,000-capacity ground even threequarters full, this being variously attributed to high admission prices, television coverage and, disturbingly, the public's preference for one-day cricket. The consequence was a saddening lack of atmosphere, except briefly on the fourth morning when Sri Lanka, 160 ahead with seven wickets standing on a turning pitch, seemed to have the makings of a winning score. Ultimately, both the batting and the spin bowling failed to rise to the occasion, but their overall performance left little doubt that in batsmen Dias, Madugalle and Ranatunga, an eighteen-year-old left-hander still at school, and opening bowler De Mel, Sri Lanka have a handful of promising young players.
England made two changes from the side which drew at Kanpur, Cook deservedly winning his first cap, although Gatting was unlucky to be displaced, while Allott came in for Dilley. Sri Lanka played ten of the team that won the second one-day international, with offspinner Kaluperuma replacing Ranasinghe. By overlooking Ratnayeke the Sri Lankan selectors gave their captain an unbalanced attack in which only De Mel was more than medium pace.
The lack of a second fast bowler may have been a factor in Warnapura's decision to bat on a pitch still damp from heavy watering the previous morning. Whatever his reasons, it might have been fatal to Sri Lanka's chances had England bowled better and held two catches off the ill-starred Allott, the second of them a vital one overhead to Emburey in the gully when Madugalle was 2. Although the ball bounced unevenly, three of the four wickets lost before lunch fell to poor strokes, only Warnapura being blameless; but in easing conditions Madugalle and Ranatunga batted through the afternoon. The recovery was going smoothly when, in the over after tea, Ranatunga shouldered arms to Underwood and was bowled. Underwood's five for 28 was his first such return in his twelve post-Packer Tests.
Brisk and with good variation, De Mel reduced England to 40 for three with three wickets in seven balls, and had Fletcher missed at short-leg four balls later. The match may have been decided at that moment, for with Sri Lanka's slow left-armer, Ajith de Silva, unable to make use of the rough outside leg stump - like Underwood he bowled over the wicket - Fletcher and Gower added 80. Gower went on to a mature 89 in four hours, twenty minutes, but the lead that was in prospect at 200 for five vanished when D.S.de Silva deceived him with a topspinner.
Dias, steadily backed by Warnapura, handled Underwood with rare brilliance in the second innings, his cover-driving proving flawless. Both partners fell after tea on the third day, but Sri Lanka were certainly no worse than level-pegging when, half an hour into the fourth day, Emburey went round the wicket. In eight overs of sharply turning, flighted offspin, he polished off the innings.
After the early loss of Cook, to a questionable lbw, England might still have had a battle if Sri Lanka's spinners had matched the bounce, control and turn of England's on a pitch now badly scarred at both ends. But they couldn't, and Tavaré, in stands of 81 and 83 with Gooch and Gower respectively, steered England home with an innings smoother and no less secure than any he had played in Tests.