Wisden Cricketer / Features

June 2006

Bounce back inability

Sri Lanka arrived at Lord's in 1984 for a one-off Test match. It was a chance for England to restore some pride and pick up a straightforward victory. At least that was the plan...

Interviews by Simon Lister

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The summer of 1984. West Indies in England and the 5-0 'Blackwash'. When it was all over, Sri Lanka arrived at Lord's for a one-off Test match. It was a chance for England to restore some pride and pick up a straightforward victory. At least that was the plan...



Sidath Wettimuny celebrates his hundred against England © Getty Images
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Chris Broad (England opener):
We'd lost 5-0 to the West Indies, so there was a feeling of relief that for once we wouldn't have to face all those fast bowlers. I think some people thought it would be easy.

Jonathan Agnew (England bowler):
My debut had been earlier in the summer against the West Indies. The series had been pretty ghastly. Winning hadn't entered into it.

David Gower (England captain):
A couple of the Tests could have gone either way but then the West Indies got past us.

Agnew:
I'd played against Sri Lanka several times for Leicestershire, so I knew they'd be a decent proposition. At the team dinner beforehand there was a feeling that we'd crush them with fast bowling.

Allan Lamb (England batsman): We all thought it would be easy.

Aravinda de Silva (Sri Lanka batsman):
England underestimated us but we proved them wrong.

Paul Downton (England wicketkeeper):
We weren't looking forward to it. It had been a long season and we had been given a beating. Sri Lanka was a hiding to nothing. It was their fi rst Test in England, so we were expected to win by a large margin.

Gower:
Was it a respite? It was meant to be.

De Silva:
I was 18. It was a remarkable Test match for Sri Lanka. Every guy who went in made a decent score except me. I was the one who was a bit disappointed.

David Gower won the toss and decided to bowl. Two days later his England side were still in the fi eld.

Agnew:
It was a nice summer's day. It was without doubt a bat-fi rst pitch. But for some reason I've never got to the bottom of why David decided to put them in.

Broad:
I don't quite know what was going through David's mind. Pitches at Lord's in late August are usually pretty good to bat on.

Lamb:
We had spent the summer being pasted all over by the West Indies and then, against Sri Lanka who had only just come into the cricketing fold, we stuck them in on a fl at wicket.

Gower:
The toss? Oh, God (sighs). When we got to the ground, Peter May, chairman of selectors, had an idea it might be a swinging day.

Downton:
It was a classic London morning: overcast, a patchy forecast and the pitch looked a little green. If things went right they could have been four or fi ve down by lunchtime. But we were fooled by the conditions.

Gower:
As captain I had the right to overrule Peter May but in a summer where we'd been beaten into submission my confi dence in my own abilities was a little low.



Paul Downton - 'They should have [prepared] something with much more pace' © Getty Images
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Downton:
Literally as we walked out, the clouds parted and the sun shone. There was no swing and the ball wouldn't go past the bat.

Agnew:
Things got off to a bad start when some Tamil political protesters ran on to the ground just as I was about to bowl the fi rst ball. Dickie Bird was umpiring and he made a huge song and dance, almost lying on the pitch to protect it.

For some England fans it was the highlight of the day. Despite taking two wickets before lunch England were blunted by the mild pitch. The Sri Lankan opener Sidath Wettimuny benefi ted the most. According to Wisden, England had "many dreadfully inept moments" and Gower's captaincy was "short of imagination". At the end of the fi rst day, with his side on 226 for 3, Wettimuny was 116 not out.

Downton:
It was, of course, the very worst sort of wicket to prepare for a team such as Sri Lanka. They should have had something with much more pace. I remember the captain, Duleep Mendis, got some runs. He was very unathletic looking. That made it even more frustrating. They did play well, though. They batted out of their skins but the whole thing was so slow.

It wasn`t that slow. Mendis made 111 off 143 balls. At the time it was the fastest Test century scored by a Sri Lankan. His innings included 11 fours and three sixes.

Agnew:
Ian Botham decided we could bounce them out. So we spent most of the day picking the ball out of the Mound Stand.

Day two was no better. Sri Lanka - and Wettimuny - just batted and batted.

Agnew:
The final ignominy was that on the Friday night, when Sri Lanka were still going strong, we were in the field desperately trying to convince the umpires that we should go off for bad light as another ball sped past us. I was at square leg with Dickie Bird, trying to persuade him.

Sri Lanka were offered the light - twice. Both times they refused. There were more runs to be had.

Broad:
Sides coming to Lord's were usually inspired because they knew they might not be back. We had a bad record there, perhaps because of all the county games. There wasn't such a sense of it being a special occasion.

De Silva:
It was so special for most of the Sri Lankans and especially for me being my debut. It was a heartening Test for all of us.

When England did get to bat, they made it past the follow-on target but were bowled out for 370, saved only by Lamb's fourth Test century of the summer.

Lamb:
Nothing against Sri Lanka but I wouldn't class it as my greatest hundred. Some of the guys in the side were under a little bit of pressure to get on the tour of India that winter.

Downton:
Even though it was Sri Lanka that were the opposition, the selectors wanted to use that final Test to help them decide who was going on tour.



'It was a shambles, rather sad in fact because many of us were playing for our place to India' © Getty Images
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Agnew:
It was a shambles, rather sad in fact because many of us were playing for our place to India. I remember dear old Chris Tavaré, like me, was one of those uncertain of a tour spot and he played a ghastly knock.

By Saturday afternoon "the ground rang with shouts of derision," remembered Wisden. At a press conference on Saturday night Gower even apologised to spectators, saying, "that kind of cricket is no fun to watch and it is certainly worse to play like it".

Downton:
Tavaré managed to bat himself out of the England side. It was his last Test for five years and he couldn't get it off the square.

Sri Lanka began their second innings with a lead of 121. This time Amal Silva got a ton and the skipper Mendis made more quick runs.

Agnew:
Just before we were coming out to bowl, I saw Peter West and Richie Benaud commentating on the television saying, "Agnew is certainly one of those who has got to make an impression for the India tour." I thought "thanks a lot, guys". As a result I tried far too hard and had no success.

Neither did the rest of England's seam attack. It was time for desperate measures.

Lamb:
Botham was pleading to bowl offspin. Swing had failed, seam had failed. He thought it was the only way to get them out. When I saw that I defi nitely knew the standard of the game had dropped.

Downton:
Reduced to Botham's offbreaks. Quite extraordinary.

Agnew:
It was hideous. We were going through new balls like there was no tomorrow. I think even our regular offspinner Pat Pocock took one of them.

Lamb:
The Sri Lankans were fi ne players of spin and I knew we were taking the piss when Botham started tweaking it.

Downton:
Probably he did it in a fi t of pique, probably there was a hint of tongue in cheek. Whatever the reason, it didn't work at all.

Broad:
We were lucky to get away with the draw.

Downton:
By the end it had become rather a futile game; there was very little chance of a result. In fact it was really dull. But Sri Lanka had achieved their task. They had come to Lord's and not lost the Test. They were delighted.

Agnew:
Looking back, the game could be used as a classic case to illustrate how different things are today. I felt a complete outsider, not part of the set-up. I think the feeling in the dressing room was that the game had been a bit of a cock-up.

Gower:
I suppose we were setting out to prove we weren't a bad side but it didn't work out that way.

This article was first published in the June issue of The Wisden Cricketer.
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