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India's first victory in an overseas Test, let alone series, since the defeat of England in 1986 may have been a while coming, but beating their neighbours on Sri Lankan soil gave the players enormous satisfaction. However, success was accompanied by acrimony. Throughout the series, the referee, Peter Burge, was kept busy with complaints over the umpiring from the Indians, who believed they had to take many more than the 20 wickets usually required to win a Test.
The controversy was at its height during the Second Test, when the Indians accused umpires Ponnadurai and Anandappa of palpably biased decision-making. Burge could do little other than send his observations back to headquarters, but at the behest of ICC he did call for a meeting mid-Test between the contestants to cool them down. India's delight in their eventual victory helped to restore normal relations between the two sides, which had been bitterly strained by the midfield exchanges.
The Sri Lankans have always possessed a formidable home record - particularly against neighbours India and Pakistan- based on their determination not to lose on their island, but this Indian team proved superior on most counts, even if it did not earn regular marks for diplomacy. India's once dismal Test fortunes - and those of their captain, Mohammad Azharuddin- had been turned around so completely by their 3-0 success over England a few months earlier that the team was brimming with confidence. The batting established a dominance it had rarely achieved on foreign soil, thanks to the brilliance of Vinod Kambli, who made two Test centuries, and Sachin Tendulkar, while the obdurate openers Navjot Sidhu and Manoj Prabhakar anchored the innings. In contrast, the Sri Lankans seemed out of touch, despite their recent successes against England. Only the senior batsmen, Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva, prospered in the decisive Second Test against the guileful leg-breaks and top-spin of Anil Kumble. Kumble and the all-rounder Prabhakar took the bowling honours, sharing 25 wickets of the 39 Sri Lankan wickets to fall.
Sri Lanka were under pressure even in the 49 minutes of the First Test that were possible in rainy Kandy, one of the biggest washouts in history. But they found their feet in time to stave off what might have been a second successive defeat in the final Test, through centuries from De Silva and Roshan Mahanama. They took the limited-overs series by the odd match in three, after each team won a game against the run of play and Sri Lanka claimed the decider in the final over. The compelling attractions of limited-overs cricket, from the spectators' point of view at least, were stressed once again. What was surprising was the pathetic turnout at the two Tests in Colombo. Even the match at the Sinhalese Sports Club, with its history of international cricket, was so sparsely attended that, despite the sponsorship available, the future of Test cricket in the island must be under dire threat.
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