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Sri Lanka arrived in England for their third visit of the 1980s, and their second as a Test-match country, almost unnoticed owing to the attention being given to the England-West Indies series and England's attendant problems. They began their fourteen-match tour with a leisurely fixture against the League Cricket Conference at Oxton on the Wirral and ended it with a one-day international at The Oval on the Sunday after the NatWest Bank Trophy final. The tour ran concurrently with the Sri Lankan Schoolboys Under-17 tour of England and Wales.
At all times the Sri Lankans played with great enthusiasm. However, they were often troubled by injuries and illness, and the poor summer did not help them either come to terms with English conditions or gain the match practice they needed so badly. Sri Lanka's cricket in recent years had been severely restricted by the island's political disturbances, which prevented them from entertaining other countries. Of the nine first-class matches, all were drawn save the Cornhill Test match, which England won by seven wickets. The Sri Lankans were in a strong position against Yorkshire, but rain on the last day prevented any play until the afternoon, when Blakey thwarted them with his highest score of the season so far.
The touring party of sixteen players was captained by Ranjan Madugalle, with Arjuna Ranatunga as his vice-captain. Duleep Mendis, who captained the 1984 side, was back again, but there was no place for his vice-captain then, Roy Dias. One of his country's most experienced players, Dias had led the Sri Lankan B team with much success in Zimbabwe earlier in the year. There was even speculation that he might have captained this team to England; instead, he spent the summer coaching in Holland.
Eight of the party had no previous experience of first-class cricket in England, although four of them had played Test cricket: the seam bowlers, Saliya Ahangama, Champaka Ramanayake and Graeme Labrooy, plus Roshan Mahanama, an opening batsman of exciting promise. Athula Samarasekera, a tall all-rounder, and Hashan Tillekeratne, a left-handed middle-order batsman who at 21 was the youngest of the tourists, had played in one-day internationals and, like the off-spinner, Ranjith Madurasinghe, had been with the B team in Zimbabwe. Brian Rajadurai, a leg-spinner, was the other newcomer.
It became apparent as the tour progressed that their strength was their batting. Those with memories of 1984, when Sri Lanka put on 491 for seven against England after being asked to bat first, hoped that the tourists would again produce an exhibition of their true cricketing ability, despite their recent disadvantages. Logic prevailed over romance; again put in at Lord's they were unable to do themselves justice in conditions that were ideal for swing bowling. But in their second innings, 235 runs behind and facing an innings defeat, they did show their ability to fight back and to score runs entertainingly, making England bat again and taking the match into the final day.
If the Sri Lankan batsmen proved they could hold their heads high at this level, the bowling was less convincing. Predominantly seam, it lacked pace and penetration, although Labrooy seemed to improve with every outing and produced some inspired spells against the counties. Ahangama, of rather gentle pace, was nevertheless difficult to get away and bowled a good line and length whenever given the opportunity. Ravi Ratnayeke, who had been such a power in the past, proved to be more of a hard-hitting batsman. Yet given the opportunity to play regularly at international level, Sri Lanka might well establish an attack to match the calibre of their batting.
The team was managed by Mr Abu Fuard, with Mr Ranjit Fernando, who had played for Sri Lanka in the first World Cup, as cricket manager. Throughout the tour, the considerable knowledge and experience of Mendis was always evident, and it is to be hoped that he will continue to assist in the development of the younger players.
Test match - Played 1: Lost 1.
First-class matches - Played 9: Lost 1, Drawn 8.
Loss - England.
Draws - Derbyshire, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Middlesex, Nottinghamshire, Surrey, Warwickshire, Yorkshire.
One-day international - Played 1: Lost 1.
Other non first-class matches - Played 4: Won 1, Drawn 3. Win - Indian Gymkhana Club.
Draws - Lavinia, Duchess of Norfolk's XI, League Cricket Conference, Minor Counties.
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