At Dambulla, March 23. Sri Lanka won by five wickets. Toss: England.
Six months earlier, the small town of Dambulla had no stadium; four weeks before, an army of women were planting grass seedlings by hand. There was plenty wrong with the Rangiri stadium - sheer drops had inadequate or non-existent barriers, hastily constructed stands were already crumbling, plate glass was secured with sticky tape - and it was hardly ready for thousands of spectators, many admitted free to enliven the occasion. Opinion differed as to whether bringing international cricket here, to exploit Dambulla's dry climate, was a phenomenal achievement or unmitigated folly. The vistas of lakes and mountains were glorious; the same could not be said of the inaugural match. A dour affair on a painfully slow pitch was leavened by Muralitharan's high-class off-spin and Jayasuriya's lightning 35-ball 39. Thorpe, maintaining the form that earned him the England captaincy after Hussain's injury, batted with a determination alien to his colleagues and ended undefeated on 62. The openers were the only others in double figures in a weary, end-of-tour display. In reply, Jayasuriya had just seen 50 up in the tenth over when he was - perhaps harshly - given lbw. Sri Lanka lost momentum, stumbling to 58 for four, but Atapattu and Arnold put them back on course.
Man of the Match: M. Muralitharan.
© John Wisden & Co