Cornhill Test Match

ENGLAND v SRI LANKA 1984

M.J.C.

Toss: England. Test debut: P.A.de Silva.

Sri Lanka marked their inaugural appearance at Lord's with a splendid performance, especially with the bat, which won them a host of new admirers and in only their twelfth match at this level left few in any doubt about their right to Test status. None of them had played at Lord's before, yet three of their batsmen, Wettimuny, Silva and Mendis, all made centuries. Indeed, Mendis, the captain, was only 6 short of a second rapid century when he fell to a Botham off-break as the game was drifting to a draw on the final day.

England, by contrast, had many dreadfully inept moments, with both bat and ball, and Gower's leadership was short of imagination. Ironically, the match was expected to give England some respite after their battering by West Indies; instead, it produced more moments of embarrassment, and if Lamb, whose fourth century of the summer made him one of the few successes, had been caught behind when 36, England might even have had to follow on.

All went wrong for England from the moment the selectors named exactly eleven players, with only one spinner, the weekend before the match. This left Gower with what proved to be an ill-balanced attack for the mildest of pitches. His decision to bowl first, made in anticipation of the ball swinging on a hazy morning, then proved to be the wrong one, and after two early breakthroughs by Botham and Ellison, Sri Lanka ended the first day at 226 for three, Wettimuny reaching three figures despite being restricted by an attack of cramp. Wettimuny batted throughout the second day as well, when England took only one wicket and Mendis made an unbeaten 100 from only 112 deliveries with glorious strokes, including three hooks for six off Botham.

England contributed to their problems with inefficiency and mismanagement in the field. Despite the ineffectiveness of their quicker bowlers, Pocock was not seen until mid-afternoon when the score was 366 for four. Three catches went down and Sri Lanka completed England's humiliation by twice refusing offers from the umpires to go off for bad light. Wettimuny and Mendis received standing ovations at the end, and Sri Lanka's progress was checked only on the third morning when Pocock and Allott, the most accurate of the England bowlers, were used in harness and the batsmen deserted their more orthodox methods to try to accelerate.

Wettimuny's tremendous effort ended after 10 hours 42 minutes, the longest innings in a Test match at Lord's. His 190 was the highest score by any batsman on his first appearance in a Test in England and had been bettered by a visiting player at Lord's only by Sir Donald Bradman (254), C. G. Greenidge (214 not out), M. P. Donnelly (206), W. A. Brown (206 not out), Mohsin Khan (200) and W. Bardsley (193 not out). The only surprise was that, with three bowlers carrying injuries and an attack which on their tour had bowled out only one county side in eleven innings, Sri Lanka did not go beyond 491 for seven, which was their highest Test total.

But it scarcely mattered, for England continued with the bat as modestly as they had performed in the field. From 27 overs between lunch and tea, the focal point of a Saturday at Lord's, Tavaré and Broad scored only 49 runs. The ground now rang with shouts of derision after the cheers for Sri Lanka, and Gower even apologised to spectators at his Saturday evening press conference, saying: That kind of cricket is no fun to watch and it is certainly worse to play like it.

If there were extenuating circumstances, they concerned Tavare's general lack of form all season, plus his reluctance to push the quick single and keep the scoreboard moving. Broad, having been pushed into the firing-line against West Indies, was all too aware of the need to make runs, with a tour place at stake, and though out of touch he at least did not sell his wicket cheaply.

England avoided the follow-on with five wickets down on the fourth day, although Lamb's escape and two near things for Ellison, before he had scored, illustrated how hard they found the going against bowling that was no more than workmanlike on a pitch which remained good. D. S. de Silva, a leg-spinner, was able to complete 45 economical overs, despite an ankle injury which had needed an X-ray earlier, and with a lead of 121 Sri Lanka then overcame the loss of two early second-innings wickets to Botham on the last morning and kept England at arm's length afterwards. Mendis narrowly failed to become only the second man, G. A. Headley being the other, to make two centuries in a Lord's Test, and Botham, in his last Test match before taking a winter off from cricket, bowled well to take six wickets and become, with 312, the third highest Test wicket-taker after Lillee (355) and Willis (325). The draw, however, meant that England had gone twelve Test matches without a win, equalling the two most barren spells in their history - 1980-81 and between June 1963 and December 1964.

The match was watched by 32,248 spectators, with total receipts of £120,289.

© John Wisden & Co