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The third visit to England in four years by a Sri Lankan team did little to alter the impression, given by their predecessors, of talented, natural cricketers lacking experience in competitive first-class cricket. Although in recent years Sri Lanka had allocated first-class status to its top level of club cricket, and had striven to develop a regional competition played over four days, the evidence offered by the tourists again suggested that, in attitude and application, the Sri Lankans in general had still to make the transition from weekend club cricketers to first-class cricketers.
On easy-paced pitches, against bowling offering some latitude outside the off stump, their batsmen delighted by the richness of their strokeplay. In their only win in seven first-class games on the tour, over Somerset, they successfully chased a target of 249 in 49 overs for the loss of only two wickets, with Aravinda de Silva, the captain, and the left-handed Sanath Jayasuriya scoring the last 83 runs in eight overs. But it was another matter entirely when the ball swung, seamed or turned, as it did at Worcester and Bristol, where the tourists suffered heavy defeats. On both occasions, flair and lack of discipline betrayed their generally sound techniques, which could have stood them in good stead.
Jayasuriya, who against Sussex scored the side's only hundred, and De Silva timed the ball exquisitely, as they showed in the Test match, at Lord's. There, De Silva lit up the closing stages of the second day with a startling display of derring-do which, in its virtuosity, matched Hooper's batting for West Indies on the Sunday morning of The Oval Test. However, although it was a stunning catch by Lewis, in the gully, which dismissed De Silva first thing next morning, the situation called for something more temperate from the captain. He was leading a young side, with an average age betweeen 24 and 25, and his players required a standard to emulate. Once or twice on the tour, too, they could have done with a reminder of the tenets of the game with regard to sportsmanship.
Chandika Hathurusinghe and Marvan Atapattu confirmed the impression they gave in 1990 of being well organised in defence, without this inhibiting their attacking strokes, and at Taunton Brendon Kuruppu demonstrated his ability to play either an attacking role or an adventurous one. Hashan Tillekeratne, the first-choice wicket-keeper, was forced to miss the early matches after injuring a finger when the deckchair on which he was sitting collapsed, and this gave twenty-year-old Romesh Kaluwitharana the opportunity to gain valuable experience. Tillekeratne batted for more than an hour in both innings of the Test match, having played himself into form at Hove.
The Sri Lankan bowling, always likely to be the weaker of their principal suits, excelled itself at Lord's by bowling out England for 282, which would have been less had Stewart, England's century-maker, not been dropped when he was 24. Rumesh Ratnayake, on his first Test match tour of England, and Sri Lanka's leading wicket-taker in Tests, stood out. With his slinging action he could generate deceptive pace, and in helpful conditions at Bristol he took eight of the twelve Gloucestershire wickets to fall. Both there and at Lord's he also struck the ball in a thrilling fashion. Champaka Ramanayake maintained a tidy line and length, and was a willing workhorse, but neither he nor Kapila Wijegunawardene possessed the firepower to do more than contain at the highest level. The length of Wijegunawardene's run-up, not to mention his name, was hardly commensurate with his pace.
The left-arm spinner, Don Anurasiri, gained his third tour of England on the strength of his bowling against England A in February and March, and if Ranjith Madurasinghe, the off-spinner, had been able to recapture his form of 1990, when he was the Sri Lankans' leading wicket-taker, the attack would have boasted an experienced and contrasting spin combination to support their faster bowlers. Another off-spinner, Muttiah Muralitharan, failed to take a first-class wicket on tour, finding the pitches generally unsympathetic to his slow turn. However, at nineteen he was very much a novice, with time to learn the skills of his trade- if he can get the opportunity in a side which seems more welcome for one-day internationals than for first-class cricket. Of Sri Lanka's 34 Tests, for example, Lord's was only their ninth since April 1987, when New Zealand's tour of the country was abandoned owing to the civil unrest there. In the same period, Sri Lanka had played 49 one-day internationals against the Test-playing countries, all of them, like the Tests, away from home.
Finding enough of the right cricket is a serious problem for Sri Lanka. Financially, a three-Test tour of England is doubtless considered unpractical, but in cricketing terms it should be essential if Sri Lanka is to be helped to maturity as a Test match country. The mistakes seen at Lord's would not, one hopes, have been repeated in a subsequent Test a week or two later. Lessons would have been learned and heeded, as perhaps they were when, soon after the tour, the former captain, Arjuna Ranatunga, was recalled to the national squad. Ranatunga had been stripped of the captaincy and left out of the side for England following an inquiry into his leadership on recent tours of India and New Zealand.
The touring team in England was managed by Chandra Schaffter, who played for Ceylon as a swing bowler in the 1950s, with the 1984 tourist, Mumtaz Yusuf, as assistant-manager and coach.
Test matches- Played 1: Lost 1.
First-class maches- Played 7: Won 1, Lost 3, Drawn 3.
Losses- England, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire.
Draws- Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Sussex.
Non first-class matches- Played 4: Won 3, Lost 1. Wins- England Amateur XI, Durham, England A. Loss- England A.
Match reports for
Only Test: England v Sri Lanka at Lord's, Aug 22-27, 1991