First Test


Toss: Sri Lanka. Test debut: R. S. Kaluwitharana.

The carelessness of Aravinda de Silva cost Sri Lanka what would have been their third and most famous victory since entering the Test arena in February 1982. With 54 runs needed from nearly 25 overs, De Silva, who had taken 37 from 32 balls with seven fours, attempted to strike McDermott for the second time over Border at mid-on. Border, at full stretch, ran 25 metres with the flight of the ball and held a magnificent catch over his shoulder.

From that moment Sri Lanka collapsed utterly, losing their last eight wickets for 37 runs. A crowd of 10,000, the biggest of the match, jeered them at the presentation ceremony. In just 17.4 overs they had squandered the impressive gains of the first three days, after Ranatunga had compelled the Australians to bat first on a damp pitch under overcast skies. The occasional seamer, Hathurusinghe, exploited the conditions with sharp and late movement to claim the wickets of Boon, Jones, Border and Waugh in just 24 balls as Australia were dismissed for 256 on the first day.

On a more docile pitch and beneath comparatively clear skies next day, the stylish Mahanama laid the foundations for Sri Lanka's first total of 500, in their 38th Test. Breaking further new ground, three of their number scored centuries in one innings. Gurusinha, wearing new contact lenses, played the anchor role, and batted eight hours 45 minutes for 137. With Ranatunga he added 230 for the fourth wicket - the second-highest partnership for Sri Lanka. Ranatunga and Kaluwitharana, on his debut, changed the tempo with audacious hundreds. Ranatunga took 127 from 192 balls, with 15 fours and three sixes; at the height of his assault, he thumped 29 off three overs from the leg-spinner, Warne. Meanwhile, Kaluwitharana, supposedly chosen as a specialist wicket-keeper, batted with breathtaking arrogance for an unbeaten 132 from 158 balls with 26 boundaries - nine against Warne and seven off McDermott.

Exhorted by Border to show greater guts and determination, Australia scored 367 on the fourth day. Though they lost five batsmen in clearing a deficit of 291, they entered the final morning 102 ahead with three wickets in hand. Matthews's responsible 64, which took Australia from 269 for five to 431 for nine, was one of four fifties from the seven top-order batsmen, who could not muster 100 runs between them in the first innings, and gallant resistance from tailenders McDermott, Warne and Whitney proved the ideal complement. A final total of 471 set Sri Lanka 181 in 58 overs and gave the visitors just a little optimism. Then, after De Silva's fateful error, Matthews returned four for 76 and with Warne, who claimed three in 13 balls without conceding a run, he engineered an improbable victory. It was a fine comeback for Matthews, ignored by the Australian selectors for the past year; it was also one of Australia's greatest fightbacks. Only once before had they won a Test after trailing by more than 200 on the first innings: in Durban in 1949-50 they beat South Africa by five wickets despite being bowled out for 75 in response to 311.

Man of the Match: G. R. J. Matthews.

Close of play: First day, Sri Lanka 9-0 (R. S. Mahanama 6*, U. C. Hathurusinghe 3*); Second day, Sri Lanka 265-3 (A. P. Gurusinha 87*, A. Ranatunga 69*); Third day, Australia 26-0 (T. M. Moody 8*, M. A. Taylor 9*); Fourth day, Australia 393-7 (G. R. J. Matthews 51*, C. J. McDermott 28*).

© John Wisden & Co