Encountering Killer Aussies in 1975: Sri Lanka’s Experiences – Tilak’s Gatherings

 ONE: Tilak’s Recollections

This article is written based on the book “Australian Cricket Anecdotes” by Gideon Haigh, I hope the readers will bear with the strong words used at times which is typical of the Aussies.

The book states as follows, “More gruesome fun was had at the expense of the Sri Lankans, whom Australia met in their next World Cup match in 1975. When Anura Tennakoon’s team showed unexpected resistance, Chappell gave Jeff Thomson carte blanche to retard their progress.”








Anyway I hit this bloke Mendis (Duleep) on the head. They are only little fellas so you couldn’t call it a bouncer exactly. He fell down face first, and when they brought him around, his captain was saying: “you’ll be right or something or other”.

But Mendis just says: ‘Oh my God I am going’. He went and he was not coming back! They took him to hospital.

But the real trouble came when I hit Wettimuny on the foot. He was waltzing around and he wanted to go too. That was enough for him. I’d already hit him in the chest. As I walked past him at the end of the over I said to him: “Look it’s not broken you weak bastard”. I said: “I’ll give you the tip——if you are down the next over it will be!”

His captain gives him the pep talk, you know, “stick around, I’ll look after you” sort of caper. Then the captain obligingly just blocked out Dennis to make sure he wasn’t going to get down to my end!

So this poor bastard was facing me again, and the ball landed in exactly the same spot and whacked him straight on the instep.You should have seen him—jumping around he was.

This is where the plot went to action. The ball had come straight back up the pitch to me, and as I collected it, the boys are yelling out ‘Throw down the stumps’, ‘two up throw down the stumps!’

I am saying ‘No, no, no, I can’t do that, no’—all in a split second. Then I thought ‘bugger it!’ and threw the ball and knocked the stumps over. I jumped up and shouted an appeal, but no other bastard’s moved. They all sat or stood there with their arms folded! They had done me stone cold on purpose. Tommo (Frith) pp 56-7.

An Unusual Congregation

Chappell’s Australians were renowned for their pranks, Doug Walters frequently their instigator. Journalist Peter McFarline recalled this one from the night after Australia beat Pakistan in the opening match of the 1975 World Cup.

One fast bowler over indulged a trifle in his favorite drink and was kindly led to bed, non-compos mentis, by some team mates. This did not miss the attention of Mr. Walters who was attending a party given by some local people. He promised them early morning fun, somehow found a lectern and a bible and set them up at the scene of the party.

In a super human effort, he half coaxed, half carried the inebriated fast bowler clad only in his pyjama bottoms to the party and demanded he read from the bible. Halfway through the amazing performance the bowler’s only piece of clothing slipped quietly to the floor to the amusement of the congregation. Our fast bowler, stumbled on, blissfully unaware of his nakedness. – Cricketer, February 1980 p18

Crying in the Chappell

Ian Chappell played his last first class cricket in 1979-80, disappearing with little fanfare but with an unequalled reputation as a taskmaster. South Australian apprentice seamer Ross McLellan had this rueful reminiscence of his first match for South Australia against the Englishmen in November 1979.

I had a really good game. I played under the captaincy of Ian Chappell, failed to take a wicket and dropped Geoff Boycott. That was like dropping Jesus while playing under God.

The Australians by and large are friendly type of people but when it comes to sport, they have this win at any cost attitude. Although the country is large, and their numbers are small still they have produced fantastic sportsmen and women. They are superbly fit as well, and as Asanka Gurusinha has so rightly said our cricketers need to be fit and 100% fit first and foremost.

It would be handy to inculcate the “go getter” attitude to our young cricketers from early days. Gone are the days when we had to be submissive to the “White Sahibs” and the time has come to show them who the masters are. The road to recovery is long, hard and bumpy but a determined effort by the people up above could see the light at the end of the tunnel.


TWO: Reminiscing homicidal bowling blitz of Jeff Thompson against Sri Lanka at the Oval in June 1975

It was the seventh match in the first ICC Prudential World Cup encounter how well Sri Lankan batsmen demonstrated grit and perseverance “never say die” attitude against the vicious bowling of the fastest bowling duo then Jeff Thompson and Dennis Lilee sans helmets. The defiant and daring batting of opener Sunil Wettimuny who made a valiant retired hurt 53.Ranjith Fernando 22, Bandula Warnapura 31, Duleep Mendis 32 retired hurt,Anura Tennakoon (capt) 48,Micheal Tissera 52 all contributing to score 276 runs for the loss of only 4 wickets in the then allotted 60 overs. Though Sri Lanka lost by a modest margin of 52 runs we were held in high ebb in world cup series memories.

Speedster Jeff Thomson bowled his full quota of 12 overs while Dennis Lilee bowled 10 from his quota. Opener Sunil Wettimuny took many blows demonstrating bravery took blows but stood vertical, A video confirmed Wettimuny had been struck six painful blows from Thompson on the body, twice struck on the inner thigh once struck on the hip bone but still he stood tall, yet Thompson had not been able to get his wicket Wettimuny had asserted, but he battled on until he retired hurt scoring 53 having faced 102 balls with seven fours.

It needs to be emphasized that Player for player, the Australians were the strongest side in the World Cup. The Chappell brothers, Doug Walters, Rick McCosker,Allan Turner, Ross Edwards, with the bat. Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Gary Gilmour, Max Walker, Ashley Mallett with the ball..

In this ICC Prudential WC encounter skipper Anura Tennekoon decided to send the opposition in. Was it because of some shrewd tactic? Or was his decision inspired by the proposition of confronting Lillee and Thomson on a fresh morning wicket?

In any case, the embarrassment appeared all but official when openers McCosker and Alan Turner put on 182, the latter getting 101 in quick time. After the wily leggie Somchandra de Silva got rid of both, and Ian Chappell had fallen early, Greg Chappell and Doug Walters cracked half-centuries 50 and 59 respectively. The 328-run total for five wickets was colossal for the era, even in a 60-over match.

And then Lillee and Thomson charged in. The Sri Lankans had never seen such pace like that.

Wicketkeeping opener Ranjit Fernando compiled an 18-ball 22 before Thomson sprawled his stumps. Bandula Warnapura joined Wettimuny and the score was pushed along wisely, particularly Mallett was being milked for lots. Walters, Walker, Lillee and Greg Chappell, all were being scored off with relative eloquence.

Warnapura did pay the price of being a little too exciting. He was stumped off Mallett for 31. But the scoreboard showed a healthy 84 by then. And the new man at the crease, Duleep Mendis, trickled class.

In the 32nd over, Sri Lanka were on 150 for 2. An unimaginable surprise was well within the scope of distinctive prospects, Ian Chappell was frantic.

He decided to put the homicidal duo back on. Lillee ran in from the Vauxhall End. more impactfully, in the real physical sense, Thommo galloped in with the pavilion at the rear of him.

According to Alan Gibson, the ball that pounded Mendis out was not really a bouncer, but a short ball aimed at the body. Thomson later claimed, “They were only little fellas, so you couldn’t call it a bouncer exactly”

In any case, the ball struck Mendis on the head, and he went down as if was fired. As he came around, the future Lankan captain muttered, “Oh my God, I’m going.” Later, he declined making this remark.

As the diminutive batsman left for the hospital, the crowd booed Thomson comprehensively. Not that it affected the fast bowler. Wettimuny was now struck on the left instep. As the batsman hobbled in pain, Thomson proved to be the soul of the spirit of cricket. “Look, it’s not broken, you weak ‘bastard’. But if you’re down there next over, it will be.”

The score had grown to 164, for 2 wickets plus an injured Mendis, when Wettimuny faced Thomson again. The ball struck once more on Wettimuny’s instep. The opener, who had endured all the blows valiantly till now, jumped around in intense anguish. Evidently spurred on by teammates, Thomson picked the ball up and threw down the stumps with the batsman wriggling in pain outside the crease. But none of his colleagues pleaded with him. In his colourful language, he recalls, They all sat or stood there with their arms folded. They’d done me stone cold.”

However, that was it for Wettimuny in any case. He limped half the way back to the pavilion but had to be chaired off subsequently. Soon, he was on his way to join Mendis at the hospital. Yet, the Sri Lankans were not really giving up without a fight. Captain Tennekoon and the steady Michael Tissera added 82 valiant runs, before both were dismissed by Ian Chappell when the asking rate had become too high. Tissera hit a stylish half-century and although it was a lost cause by the time the two men got out, there was none of the anticipated embarrassment.

Sri Lanka finished with a very admirable 276 for 4 lost my only 52 runs but the bravery of the batsmen will be remembered for a long time.At the hospital, Wettimuny and Mendis encountered a London cop, who had just got to know that an Australian cricketer had hurt and hit two Sri Lankan men. After being told that it was Jeff Thomson, this guardian of the law asked the cricketers whether they would like to press charges.

The two injured men were discharged the next day. Wettimuny walked on crutches for a while, and Mendis had to miss Sri Lanka’s last match because of a persisting headache. The skipper of the Sri Lanka team then Anura Tennakoon had this to say replying to my e mail: “Hi Sunil, this was a memorable match captured very well by the author. The 1st over I faced off Thomson was frightening as I saw the ball only when it passed my head ( no helmet ). Lucky to have survived to tell this tale. Rgds AnuraT

Sunil Thenabadu in Brisbane

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