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The fourth Sri Lankan team to visit Australia undertook the longest tour by a side from that country, playing 27 matches in three months. However, of those fixtures, only six were first-class, including two Test matches. It was not a satisfactory situation for a team bereft of sustained competitive cricket at the highest level.
There were problems for the touring team even before it had been selected. According to the country's sports laws, all representative players and officials have to be approved by the Sri Lankan Minsitry of Sport, and in this instance the Ministry refused to give its approval to the Sri Lankan Cricket Board's choice of Abu Fuard as manager and Ranjit Fernando as his assistant. For previous Sri Lankan tours, approval had been a formality, but this time three sets of names had been required.
Following the Ministry's rejection of the Board's proposed officials, its president, Ian Pieris, resigned, after only five months in office. In his resignation statement, Pieris said: "In my opinion, and in the best interests of Sri Lankan cricket, we should have complied with the Ministry's directive to submit three names each for the posts of manager and assistant-manager. However, the majority in the committee took another view and I could not in all conscience continue in office." The Board then submitted two further names - Nisal Senaratne as manager and Anuruddha Polonowita as assistant-manager - which the Ministry ratified immediately in view of the time constraint.
This had not been the only problem prior to the start of the tour. The Sri Lankan Board had been most dissatisfied with the itinerary sent to them by the Australian Cricket Board. With the Australian season being disrupted by the later-than-scheduled arrival of Pakistan, and with the ACB undertaking to Channel Nine television not to programme international cricket while the Commonwealth Games were being broadcast from Auckland, New Zealand, the Sri Lankans were faced with a period of 37 days in which they would play no senior cricket. The Sri Lankan Board put two options to the ACB, the preferred choice being to make a short tour of New Zealand during this period. The other was to return home for a time. The ACB refused to entertain the New Zealand concept and insisted that the Sri Lankans wander aimlessly around Australia, playing mainly at country venues. That the visitors agreed with such good grace to this schedule, which at times meant three flights a day, was a credit to them.
When the sixteen-man Sri Lankan team was announced, the surprise omission was Brendon Kuruppu, a wicket-keeper-batsman, who had been to Australia in 1987-88. The three newcomers were Dhammika Ranatunga - the elder brother of the captain, Arjuna Ranatunga, and an opening batsman - all-rounder Sanath Jayasuriya, and wicket-keeper Gamini Wickremasinghe. As the tour wore on and the list of injured players grew, three replacements joined the party - Nilantha Ratnayake, Ruwan Kalpage and finally Kuruppu, who was flown to Australia for the last three limited-overs internationals.
The tour was a learning process for many of the Sri Lankans. Aravinda de Silva, who had been on two previous tours, in 1984-85 and 1987-88, scored 934 runs at 37.36 in all matches. He was followed by the ever-improving Asanka Gurusinha (849 runs at 28.30), who played in 25 fixtures, and Athula Samarasekera (707 runs at 28.28), whose improvement was marked as the tour progressed. Off-spinner Ranjith Madurasinghe, who had performed so well in local competitions, arrived in Australia as an unknown but soon proved his ability. His 31 wickets at 23.06 in all matches, particularly on the slower country pitches, augured well for his future. However, the loss of Graeme Labrooy and Rumesh Ratnayake through injury was a serious blow to Sri Lankan hopes in both the Test matches and the one-day internationals.
The team was ably led by Arjuna Ranatunga, with Ravi Ratnayeke as his deputy. No matter what the travelling schedules, the players always appeared at the numerous functions laid on for them correctly dressed in the team-issue blazer and trousers. But while the public relations side was exemplary, the fact is that the tour did little to enhance the standard of Sri Lankan cricket. Both Test matches showed the capability of the visitors, and never again should they suffer the indignity of being used in such a way by the Australian Cricket Board. A full fixture list of first-class matches should have been prepared, and it is to be hoped that future visits will reflect this view.
Test matches - Played 2: Lost 1, Drawn 1.
First-class matches - Played 6: Lost 2, Drawn 4.
Losses - Australia, Victoria.
Draws - Australia, New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania.
One-day internationals - Played 8: Won 1, Lost 7. Win - Pakistan. Losses - Australia (4), Pakistan (3).
Other non first-class matches - Played 13: Won 5, Lost 5, Drawn 3. Wins - South Australian Country XI, New South Wales Country XI, Queensland Country XI, Western Australia, Western Australia Country XI. Losses - Victoria, Victorian Country Cricket League, New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia. Draws - Australian Cricket Academy, Australian Country XI, Queensland.
Match reports for