The Sri Lankans could regard their short tour of England as an unmitigated success. Not only did they win both their sole Test match and the one-day triangular series against England and South Africa, they drew large crowds eager to witness a zestful approach which had become more widely appreciated since their victory in the 1996 World Cup. The English authorities, who had routinely sought to justify the sparse number of matches against Sri Lanka since their elevation to Test status on economic grounds, confirmed a three-Test tour of the island in 2000-01, with a lengthier Sri Lankan visit to England provisionally scheduled for 2002. The gesture was not before time.
In the wake of a Test series against South Africa of growing and ultimately exhausting intensity, Sri Lanka's exhilarating cricket ensured that the summer finished with a joyous release of tension. The batting, primarily of Sanath Jayasuriya and Aravinda de Silva, and the unique bowling style of Muttiah Muralitharan, whose 16 wickets in the Oval Test confirmed him as the finest off-spinner in the world, made a particular impact. Muralitharan's match figures at The Oval of 16 for 220 represented the fifth-best Test bowling return in history, but it was not achieved without controversy. David Lloyd, the England coach, had reopened the debate about the legality of Muralitharan's bowling action by expressing his reservations to the International Cricket Council after the Emirates tournament. Then, inadvisedly and insensitively, with England on the brink of defeat in the Test, he implied to the media that he still regarded him as a chucker. Muralitharan had been called for throwing in Australia nearly three years earlier, most notoriously by the Australian umpire, Darrell Hair, during the Boxing Day Test at Melbourne. But his action was later passed as legitimate by ICC after the study of comprehensive video footage as well as medical submissions concerning a hereditary deformity which prevents him entirely straightening his elbow.
It was not surprising that Lloyd, as England coach, should take such a subjective view of matters; an emotional style had proved a vital facet of his success as a dressing-room motivator. His insinuations, nevertheless, were unfortunate, ill-considered and perhaps even a trifle xenophobic. An over-critical ECB response then produced wild tabloid speculation that Lloyd might be sacked for little more than a nod and a wink. Lloyd received a severe reprimand - his second in two years in the job - and briefly considered resigning. He left for the Ashes tour knowing that another misjudgment would cost him his job.
For Arjuna Ranatunga, the Sri Lankan captain, the tour of England was a personal triumph. Ranatunga, who had made his debut against England in Sri Lanka's inaugural Test 16 years earlier, was contemplating retirement after the 1999 World Cup in England. He arrived for what would therefore be his last Test in the country nearly two stones lighter than usual.
Even for such a deft and cunning captain, the absence through injury of two pace bowlers, Chaminda Vaas and Nuwan Zoysa, threatened to cause insurmountable problems. Muralitharan, at times, was a one-man attack, taking 34 first-class wickets at 13.61, and attracting overtures from several English counties; in September, he signed for Lancashire. Pramodya Wickremasinghe was the only other Sri Lankan to take even ten first-class wickets on tour, although the 20-year-old Suresh Perera at times displayed enterprise and a fair turn of pace.
Sri Lanka's batting initially malfunctioned as they took time to come to terms with a damp English summer. Against Somerset at Taunton, they followed on 236 behind, only to come close to winning the game as Russel Arnold hit an elegant and orthodox double-century, his one convincing innings of the tour. Against Glamorgan at Cardiff, even worse followed; the Sri Lankans were routed on a damp pitch of indifferent bounce for 54 in only 21.5 overs. As Ranjit Fernando, their gracious and personable tour manager, remarked a few weeks later: That made us sit back and think. Centuries for two old heads, Ranatunga and Hashan Tillekeratne, steadied matters with victory against Leicestershire, before a series of limited-overs victories ensured that Sri Lanka arrived at the triangular series in fine heart.
Their opening victory against South Africa at Trent Bridge regained the ascendancy against the one country to dominate them in the limited-overs format since they became world champions. Although England then defeated them at Lord's, Sri Lanka took the trophy on the same ground four days later, driven ahead by a controlled unbeaten century by Marvan Atapattu.
Whatever the occasion - Test, one-day jamboree, or the first attention of a county match - the Sri Lankan batsman remained true to type, gambolling along at around four runs per over. Their fielding was inconsistent, their seam bowling weak, but, as long as they retain an ability to produce high-class spinners (and their colleges are not exactly overflowing with them at the moment), they will remain competitive. Perhaps we may even hope for the day when all English commentators, on radio and TV alike, will wake up to their responsibilities and learn how to pronounce their names.
A. Ranatunga (Sinhalese SC) (captain), P. A. De Silva (Nondescripts CC) (vice-captain), R. P. Arnold (Nondescripts CC), M. S. Atapattu (Sinhalese SC), M. R. C. N. Bandaratilleke (Tamil Union), U. D. U. Chandana (Tamil Union), H. D. P. K. Dharmasena (Bloomfield C and AC), U. C. Hathurusinghe (Moors SC), S. T. Jayasuriya (Bloomfield C and AC), D. P. M. D. Jayawardene (Sinhalese SC), H. P. W. Jayawardene, R. S. Kaluwitharana (Colts CC), M. Muralitharan (Tamil Union), A. S. A. Perera (Sinhalese SC), K. R. Pushpakumara (Nondescripts CC), H. P. Tillekeratne (Nondescripts CC), M. S. Villavarayen (Tamil Union), G. P. Wickremasinghe (Sinhalese SC).
W. P. U. J. C. Vaas (Colts CC) later reinforced the party.
Manager: E. R. Fernando. Coach: R. L. Dias.
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