Alan Gibson’s Account of the Australian-Sri Lankan Encounter at Kennington Oval, 197

Alan Gibson: “Sri Lanka prospects please until Thomson injures two batsmen,” in The Times**

I was having a drink with this beautiful girl from Ceylon. It was rath*? a lot of years ago. perhaps it would be unchivalrous to say how many. She is now a famous broadcaster in her country. I had just begun as a cricket commentator. ‘One day’, she said ’you will broadcast upon England against Ceylon at Lord’s’. We had another beer on the prospect It was an evening when every prospect pleased, and the spicy breezes blew soft o’er Ceylon’s isle. ’But’, she went on to say, her golden eyes hardening, ‘when you do, you are to be kind to Ceylon’.

  Anura Tennekoon hooks …. & … Michael Tissera bowls (pix from other occasions)

Well, I have not yet seen Ceylon play England at Lord’s, but I saw Sri Lanka — as they are now called — play Australia at the Oval yesterday, something which would have seemed even more improbable those years ago. As to being kind, there is no difficulty. They played extremely well, they batted better than they bowled, and their fielding varied between brilliance and wildness. Nevertheless, at one stage they had the mighty Australians worried, almost fumbling. Consider, Australia was 0/178 in 34 overs at lunch, and went on to male 5/328. All we expected of Sri Lanka was that they would do their best to bat it out and gain experience. But in the 32nd over they had scored 150, and lost only two wickets. Mendis and Wettimuny were going so well that anything seemed possible.

At this point Thomson laid Mendis out. It was not strictly a bouncer, but a short ball aimed at the body. Thomson hit the batsman on several other occasions with similar balls. He was booed by the crowd, alike by those from the Indian subcontinent and those forthright souls from the Elephant and Castle. It will not. I am afraid, be a pleasant occasion when Australia meet West Indies.

Mendis was carried off and in Thomson’s next over so was Wettimuny. who had several bangs on the legs and midriff. He limped most of the way, but had to be picked up before he reached the Pavilion. They were both taken to hospital for treatment. With two new batsmen needing to play themselves in, Sri Lanka could not keep up the scoring rate. Thus vanished their hopes, but not their bravery. They did not duck or dodge the fast bowling. They kept playing strokes: glances and cuts are what they do best. They will beat Australia one day.

Perhaps they were wrong to put Australia in, on a fast and true pitch. I suppose after their last experience they were afraid of an attack of early nerves, a sudden irretrievable breakdown. They certainly played better as the day went on. They were not helped in the morning by an invasion of the field by some young supporters who were, I understand, protesting against the selection of their side.***

Sri Lanka’s 4/276 was the highest score made in the second innings of a Prudential Cup match: not that it breaks any longstanding records, but it was done against Australia and their dreaded attack. Although Australia dropped some catches, they were not fooling about. The man of the match, Laurie Fishlock decided, was Turner, whose innings we had almost forgotten in the flux of events. Not that he did not deserve it. The woman of the match was the golden-eye girl from Ceylon who prophesised long ago.


** I thank David Sansoni  (Sydney), Johnny de Silva (Melbourne) and Michael Evans (Adelaide) for the technical aid that has enabled me to present this item in simple form.

*** Gibson failed to do his homework. The protest intrusion involved young Sri Lankan Tamils targeting the Sri Lankan government and society for their politics. Also see the leaflet they distributed — one reproduced in Roberts & James, Crosscurrents. Sri Lankan and Australia at Cricket, Sydney, Walla Walla Press, 1998, p. 91.

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