March 17 down the years

Underdogs have their day

Sri Lanka's crowning glory

Fittingly, Arjuna Ranatunga hit the winning runs © Getty Images

Nobody gave Sri Lanka a chance before the World Cup - they were 100-1 outsiders - but their fairy-tale victory was completed with a comprehensive defeat of Australia in the final in Lahore today. No true sporting underdog has ever won a major tournament with such relentless conviction. After demolishing England and India in the quarter- and semi-finals, Sri Lanka brushed Australia aside with ease. Aravinda de Silva made a wonderfully pure 107 not out, to add to three wickets, two catches, and one of the more inevitable Man-of-the-Match awards, and Arjuna Ranatunga glided the winning runs with 22 balls and seven wickets to spare.

A St Patrick's Day miracle in Kingston. Ireland arrived in Jamaica for their first World Cup as makeweights, but they departed as heroes after ousting the former champions, Pakistan, at the first hurdle in a nerve-shredding contest at Sabina Park. Inspired by their 6'7" seamer Boyd Rankin, Ireland dismissed Pakistan for 132, but the drama had only just started. Rain breaks, umpiring howlers and an inspired Mohammad Sami threatened to ruin an increasingly raucous party, but Niall O'Brien anchored the chase with a nerveless 72. In another game, Bangladesh humbled neighbours India in Port-of-Spain, making it a glorious day for the underdogs.

The birth of a man who should inspire all 30-something cricketers of limited ability. Douglas Carr was languishing in Kent club cricket when he began to experiment with googly bowling. Within a year he had been spotted, and picked, by Kent, and within three months of his first-class debut, aged 37, he played for England against Australia at The Oval, taking seven wickets.

Arguably one of the greatest fielders of all time is born. At slip, in the deep, off his bowling, anywhere you like, Roger Harper was absolutely electric, startlingly so for a man of 6ft 3in. Nobody who witnessed his run-out of Graham Gooch in the MCC Bicentenary match at Lord's in 1987 will forget it. Gooch came down the track and smacked a drive on the bounce back at Harper, who grabbed it and threw down the stumps in a mesmerising blur. Gooch had hardly turned round, let alone got his bat back down, and was left on his knees, a disbelieving look on his face. Scyld Berry wrote that Gooch should have been given out "st and b Harper". Harper's fielding obscured his offspin, which was good enough to earn 46 Test wickets, and no West Indian spinner with 25 wickets - not even Lance Gibbs - has a lower average than Harper's 28.07.

A remarkable end to the Centenary Test in Melbourne as Australia beat England by 45 runs - exactly the same margin as in the first Test played on the same ground, 100 years earlier. Derek Randall's 174 came so close to securing a historic win as England, chasing 463 to win, reached 346 for 4 before Dennis Lillee put the game beyond doubt. Lillee (5 for 139) ended with match figures of 11 for 165. When the teams were presented to the Queen during the tea interval he broke protocol by asking Her Majesty for her autograph. She politely declined but did send him a signed picture soon afterwards.

A hazy day in Colombo, where a dramatic late-afternoon collapse gave England a sensational series victory over Sri Lanka, achieved from 0-1 down and despite their losing all three tosses. This rounded off a remarkable winter's work for Nasser Hussain's team, who had earlier won the final Test in Pakistan to take that series too. After a glorious hundred from Graham Thorpe, Sri Lanka collapsed from 57 for 3 to 81 all out and England, with a feverish Thorpe somehow standing firm as wickets tumbled, hobbled over the line at 74 for 6. Apart from Thorpe's brilliance, central to their series win was the emasculation of Muttiah Muralitharan: his strike rate of a wicket every 101 balls was 27 more than Robert Croft's.

South African opener Andrew Hudson, who was born today, will always be remembered for his monumental nine-hour 163 on debut, in South Africa's first Test back, against Ambrose, Patterson and friends in Barbados in 1991-92. He was the first South African to make a century on debut, a feat that was not emulated until Jacques Rudolph scored 222 not out against a rather friendlier Bangladesh attack in April 2003. A devout Christian, a thoroughly decent bloke and a Prince Charles lookalike, Hudson was on the wrong end of an infamously maniacal send-off from Shane Warne in Johannesburg in 1993-94. His average, above 40 for a long while, slipped steadily and was as low as 33 when he played his last Test, against Pakistan in 1997-98. He tended to thrive when the going got tough, most notably with an outstanding 80 when South Africa were put in by India on a juicy Durban track in 1996-97. Nobody else passed 35, and Hudson's 80 was more than what the whole Indian team got in their second innings.

The 2019-20 season of the Sheffield Shield was called off for the first time since the Second World War in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, after nine of ten rounds of games. New South Wales, who won six of their nine matches, were declared winners, with defending champions Victoria in the second spot, along with Queensland - who would both have contested for a place in the final in the tenth round of matches.

There were low points for Australia in the mid-1980s, but this took the biscuit. Their New Zealand friends became the first side to beat them in two series in the same season, with an eight-wicket victory in Auckland. It came by virtue of a hilarious second-innings collapse, in which David Boon carried his bat for 58 in a total of 103. John Bracewell took 6 for 32, part of the only ten-for of his Test career. This defeat left Australia with only one win in 13 Tests. It got worse before it got better, though: there were seven more barren matches to endure before Peter Taylor turned things around in Sydney in 1986-87.

An already foreshortened Pakistan Super League season was abruptly postponed at the playoffs stage when an overseas player was suspected to have contracted Covid-19. Though the player eventually tested negative, the semi-finals - Multan Sultans v Peshawar Zalmi and Karachi Kings v Lahore Qalandars - were suspended, to be rescheduled if and when the situation improved. The last couple of matches before the postponement were played behind closed doors.

If Australia must have felt bad, spare a thought for India. On this day they lost the fifth and final Test in Bangalore, and with it a home series against Pakistan for the first time. It was also Pakistan's first Test win in India for 35 years, and ended a frightening run of 11 draws in a row between the two sides. There were just 16 runs in it: India needed 221 on a pitch turning square, and despite a regal display from Sunil Gavaskar, who made 96 in his last Test innings (the next-highest score was extras, with 27), Iqbal Qasim and Tauseef Ahmed sealed the deal. It was a sad way to end for Gavaskar, but at least he went out with all sorts of records, including most Tests (125), most runs (10,122), and most centuries (34).

Other birthdays
1804 Fuller Pilch (England)
1872 Willie Quaife (England)
1921 Mick Harvey (Australia)
1939 Shahid Mahmood (Pakistan)
1967 Angus Dunlop (Ireland)