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Mark Nicholas

Give us some of the spirit of '84

Thirty-something years ago Sri Lanka briefly lit up an English summer with some of the best cricket seen that year. Let's hope for a reprise

Mark Nicholas
Mark Nicholas
Sidath Wettimuny scored 190 in Sri Lanka's Test at Lord's in 1984 and was named one of <i>Wisden</i>'s five cricketers of the year&nbsp;&nbsp;&bull;&nbsp;&nbsp;Getty Images

Sidath Wettimuny scored 190 in Sri Lanka's Test at Lord's in 1984 and was named one of Wisden's five cricketers of the year  •  Getty Images

With what do we associate 1984? A novel, of course: George Orwell's dystopian piece that previewed perpetual war, all-consuming government surveillance and both public and political manipulation. About right really, once you add in Big Brother and the cult of a personality that may not even exist. A film directed by Michael Radford; a song by David Bowie. What else? The first Apple Macintosh hit the market. Indian troops were sent to the Golden Temple compound in Amritsar. AIDS was identified as a global threat. The summer Olympics were in LA and the winter games in Sarajevo. Indira Gandhi was shot, Sikh revenge for Amritsar. Ghostbusters and Indiana Jones rocked the box office. The USA got down to some untethered action in space. Virgin Atlantic took off for the first time. Famine hit hard in Ethiopia. The British pound note was taken out of circulation and the coal miners took strike action, though one was not a consequence of the other. Oh, and Greg Chappell, Rodney Marsh and Dennis Lillee retired from cricket. So did Bob Willis.
Cricket's kaleidoscope was colourful in 1984, though not always beautiful. Malcolm Marshall was heavily criticised for bowling fast and short to England's nightwatchman, Pat Pocock. The Laws of the game state clearly enough the "the relative skill of the striker" must be taken into account by the umpires when ruling upon a level of "intimidation" that becomes unfair and/or dangerous. But the umpires remained impassive, as did the West Indies captain, Clive Lloyd. Pocock survived injury and Marshall responded to the criticism by saying that when he bowled a full length, the flat pitch allowed Pocock to play it easily, thus, being a professional, he found another way.
It was that summer that county cricketers began to wear helmets as a matter of course. The vision from the Test series was often chilling and alerted everyone to their own mortality. The view that Lloyd's team was the greatest ever brooked little argument. They won 11 consecutive Tests against England and Australia by batting with good technique and immense power, fielding quite brilliantly and bowling with such menace, speed and skill that few batsmen of any era could have coped beyond brief and heroic shows of resilience - as displayed by Allan Lamb, for example. Sir Leonard Hutton was in Hampshire's dressing room the following year and, with Greenidge and Marshall present, I asked him how he thought he would cope with the West Indies attack. The room fell utterly silent. Sir Len paused, thought and then, in that stage whisper of his, slowly said: "Not very well."
Wisden's five cricketers of the year - and remember that this honour is not bestowed twice upon any cricketer - were Larry Gomes, Martin Crowe, Jack Simmons (for services to Lancashire cricket and fish and chip shops), Geoff Humpage (for services to Warwickshire cricket and bonhomie) and Sidath Wettimuny, which is the point of this piece.
England were worn down by West Indies and then trampled upon by Sri Lankan's natural strokemakers
During the latter part of West Indies' all-conquering visit to England in 1984, Sri Lanka toured. It was a largely unnoticed visit until the one Test, at Lord's, where the men so ably led by Duleep Mendis gave a marvellous account of themselves. Wisden's editor, John Woodcock, had this to say in his notes.
"Many followers of the game were of the opinion that the most agreeable cricket they watched in 1984 was played on the first two days of the Test match against Sri Lanka at Lord's when our visitors were batting. Their batsmen stood in the natural position rather than with their bat aloft; they used their feet and bouncers were few and far between.
"It would have been a very different story, I know, had the West Indians, not England, been bowling, or if England themselves had had a fast attack, but it was quite like the old days while it lasted. This was a great occasion for Sri Lanka, on which they won many new admirers."
It was the third time in six years that Sri Lanka toured England. In 1979 their journey was alongside the World Cup, at which they performed with credit. In 1981 their visit coincided with full admission to the ICC. Nothing, though, quite matched those heady days at Lord's in the late August of 1984. On a hazy morning, David Gower put Sri Lanka in to bat on a pitch that Mendis was later to call the best on which he had ever batted. Wettimuny, in his precise and orthodox way, scored 190 in ten hours and 42 minutes - at the time the longest innings in Test matches at Lord's. Only six visiting batsmen had made more at Thomas Lord's institution, Sir Donald Bradman first among them with his 1930 masterpiece.
Mendis came achingly close to two hundreds in the match, confounded only by a gentle Botham offbreak as the game drifted to a draw on the final day. In the first innings Mendis had thumped three of the mighty allrounder's short balls over the ropes while racing to a hundred in just 112 balls. He was quite a sight, portly to say the least, and smiling, but with enough of the assassin to take full toll of anything laboured by the opposition. England were worn down by West Indies and then trampled upon by Sri Lankan's natural strokemakers.
Others worth a note in this entertaining team, many of them the modern builders of Sri Lankan cricket, were Roy Dias, Ranjan Madugalle, Ravi Ratnayeke, Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva.
Dias was a lovely, wristy batsman who had a quiet trip this time round but had long fought cricket battles that played their part in the rising stock of cricket in his country. Madugalle was a quick-footed and well-balanced player who summed up conditions with skill and purpose. Ratnayeke was a tall and strong man who simply never gave in. One could imagine him in the movies, the unshaven face and lank hair beneath a sombrero in one of the many spaghetti Westerns that adorned the silver screen when he was growing from boy to man. De Silva made his debut in that Test, still a boy. He was, until Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara made their mark, quite the most accomplished Sri Lankan batsman there had been. His 1996 World Cup final Man-of-the-Match medal sits in evidence of his ability to outwit and outplay even the very best.
Ranatunga is my favourite Sri Lankan cricketer of all time. A feisty opponent who plotted the extraordinary World Cup triumph as if he were a general himself. Ranatunga loved nothing more than a face-off. He gave impetus to Sri Lanka's previously gentle progress; made it clear that neither he, nor they, would bow to provocation - locking horns with Shane Warne, Ian Healy, Alec Stewart, David Lloyd and numerous umpires and officials along the way. He cleared a path for Muttiah Muralitharan and adopted strategies, such as pinch-hitting, that transformed thinking about the game in all its formats.
I played twice against this 1984 team. First for Hampshire, when De Silva, Mendis and Ranatunga made sublime fifties, and Robin Smith, who was still to qualify for England, made 132 in the first innings and 97 in the second. His "cutting and driving", said Wisden, had "awesome power". Hampshire declared their second innings, leaving the tourists a rather mean 155 minutes to score 268 to win. I looked back at the scorecard to see who captained Hampshire that day. Me.
In contrast, I played under Johnny Barclay for the Duchess of Norfolk's XI a week later at Arundel where we had the tourists in soup until Barclay brought himself on to bowl and, lobbing it up, conceded 26 in an over against Mendis. "Now we've a cracking game on our hands," said Barclay to his nonplussed troops. A game which Sri Lanka then won with a wicket and a ball to spare!
Sadly those festival matches no longer feature on the calendar. Instead it is three Tests, five one-dayers and a T20. There will be points allocated to each match and an overall winner declared. How hare-brained is that. Four points for a Test win and two for anything in the shorter form. And our masters tell us they care for Test match cricket?
We shall have to leave it to Alastair Cook and Angelo Mathews to make sense of the cricket. If it is as tense as the last time these two countries went at one another on British land mass, it will make for irresistible viewing and damn the points. Points don't mean prizes, they mean that someone behind a desk has got too much time on his hands. Come on Angelo, follow in the footsteps of your forefathers and encourage your young team to entertain us - in the manner of Duleep and company in 1984.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel Nine in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK