First Test Match


Toss: West Indies. Test debut: F. L. Reifer.

Victory with more than two days to spare flattered West Indies, who needed their bowlers to pull them out of a hole dug by their batsmen. Ambrose was soon closing in on his 300th Test wicket, dismissing three men in the first half-hour on a damp, grassy pitch. But he was the only bowler to hit the right length consistently and, when he was relieved, Jayasuriya and Ranatunga turned things round with a brave stand of 110. Both collected body bruises as the ball darted around and bounced disconcertingly off a good length.

Sri Lankan coach Bruce Yardley complained about a "crap pitch" and argued that play should not have started before tea. But for all the devil in it, his batsmen survived the most testing period. After Ranatunga run out, Tillekeratne, rashly batting without an arm guard, dropped his wrists and had his right forearm fractured by Walsh. Jayasuriya was eventually bowled driving over Hooper's faster ball; typically harsh on anything short, he had hit nine fours and two sixes in 223 minutes. Bishop collected his 150th wicket in 36 Tests as Kaluwitharana trod on his stumps, then Ambrose returned to achieve his own landmark when Sanjeewa de Silva skied to cover. He was the fourth West Indian to take 300 wickets, in his 71st Test, and the 12th bowler in all.

What looked like a solid reply by West Indies on the first afternoon became a collapse next day, thanks to some indisciplined batting. Lara appeared unlucky to be given out to a keeper's catch, but it was an inspired spell by Pushpakumara that jolted the top order. Muralitharan swept aside the lower half in 35 balls, clean bowling the last three without conceding a run. After Campbell had gone for 50, the last six wickets tumbled for 21.

Ambrose quickly put his stamp on proceedings again, removing the dangerous Jayasuriya third ball and adding two more wickets as Sri Lanka extended their lead to 75. This time, his colleagues offered proper support to regain the initiative. The best stand, between Aravinda de Silva and Ranatunga, added only 44 before Bishop claimed both in his second over, and Dharmasena found no one to stay with him.

Sri Lanka were all out in 35 overs, leaving West Indies a target of 187, which appeared far from straightforward in a low-scoring match. But Williams and Campbell reeled off some breathtaking shots and raced to 160, West Indies' highest opening stand since Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes put on a record 298, also at St. John's, against England in 1989-90. Williams was the more fluent, hitting 12 fours and two sixes in 155 minutes before he was caught at long-on. Campbell also squandered his wicket, as did Lara, second ball, while debutant Floyd Reifer followed one run later. But victory was secured half an hour before tea.

Man of the Match: C. E. L. Ambrose.

Close of play: First day, West Indies 56-1 (S. L. Campbell 24*, F. L. Reifer 10*) Second day, Sri Lanka 151-8 (K. S. C. De Silva 2* M. Muralitharan 0*).

© John Wisden & Co