Classic World Cup Moments

Thommo gives Sri Lanka a headache

When the malevolent Aussie got the rookies of Sri Lanka in his sights and cut them down ruthlessly

Australian players gather around Wettimuny after he was struck in the chest by a Thomson delivery  •  PA Photos

Australian players gather around Wettimuny after he was struck in the chest by a Thomson delivery  •  PA Photos

Two minnows - East Africa and Sri Lanka - joined the Test-playing countries for the first World Cup in 1975. Sri Lanka, still referred to in many newspapers as Ceylon, had a rich cricket pedigree and several talented players, although upsets weren't predicted in what was their first real test in meaningful competition.
After a nine-wicket drubbing by West Indies in their opening game, they headed south to take on Australia, and after being asked to bat, the Australians piled on 328 for 5. In reply, Sri Lanka reached 150 for 2 in the 32nd over, up with the clock and fighting hard. They had weathered Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson's opening salvos, but when the pair returned, it proved too much.
Sunil Wettimuny and Duleep Mendis were repeatedly struck on the body, with Thomson, steaming in from the Pavilion End, causing the most damage. Both batsmen were hit, but Mendis was laid out by a ball Alan Gibson in the Times described as "not a bouncer but a short ball aimed at the body". "I hit this bloke on the head," Thomson explained. "They were only little fellas so you couldn't call it a bouncer exactly."
Mendis was knocked out and fell down as if shot and, according to Thomson, as he was brought round, muttered: "Oh my God, I'm going" - a comment which he vehemently denies making - and left the field for hospital while Thomson was roundly booed.
The noise grew in Thomson's next over when he floored Wettimuny, who had already been hit sickening blows on the legs and body. In the previous over he had been struck on the instep, after which Thomson had offered a sympathetic observation. "Look, it's not broken, you weak bastard. But if you're down there next over, it will be."
Sure enough, the first ball of Thomson's next over landed once more on Wettimuny's instep and he jumped around in agony. Thomson recalls that, egged on by his team-mates, he picked up the ball and threw down the stumps at the striker's end with the distressed batsmen out of his ground. "I jumped up and appealed," Thomson said. "No other bastard moved. They all sat or stood there with their arms folded. They'd done me stone cold."
"Wettimuny limped most of the way off," Gibson wrote, "but had to be picked up before he reached the pavilion." Both men were taken to hospital. Both were discharged the next day, but Wettimuny was forced to walk on crutches because of a damaged instep and Mendis missed Sri Lanka's last match with a lingering headache.
It was certainly an experience," said Mendis, before adding: "Although I don't remember too much about it." Wettimuny, meanwhile, recalled that on arrival at hospital he was asked who had injured him. "Thomson," he replied. A nearby off-duty policeman, unaware that he had been felled on the cricket field, walked over and asked: "Would you like to press charges?"

Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa