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Bearding the lion in its own den

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36th Anniversary of Sri Lanka’s first ever Test match at Lord’s – Part 2

by Rohan Wijeyaratna

By now it was clear Gower and the selectors had grievously erred in under estimating the visitors, while over-estimating themselves. Far from being overawed, Sri Lanka had risen to the occasion and set in motion a prolonged leather hunt, that was fast becoming an embarrassment to England. As they drearily dragged themselves on to the field for the third successive day at Lord’s, the truth slowly dawned upon all, that England hadn’t seen off even half the visiting side yet.

The only wicket for the day

But let’s not get too far ahead of the story. The wicket of Ranatunga midway through the second afternoon was the only success England enjoyed on day two. Possessing a composure and temperament that was well beyond his years, Ranatunga played a commendable hand for one so young in consolidating the Sri Lankan middle order. He enjoyed some luck along the way when Gower spilled him in the gully when on 66, but by lunch on day two, Sri Lanka were healthily placed at 271 for three, with Ranatunga on 74 and Wettimuny on 137. England had toiled hard in the morning session for no return.

Reputedly, the English crowds are the fairest in the world. It is a repute they wear very well. On this occasion they were genuine in their appreciation of the Lankan batting, even though it was at the expense of their own team. Tragically, with a Test hundred at Lord’s beckoning him, Ranatunga playing forward to Agnew, allowed a shaft of light to remain between bat and pad and was castled through it. He had made 84 in 248 minutes of batting, having added 148 for the fourth wicket. Sri Lanka were 292 for four, when Duleep Mendis walked in.

 

 

Unfinished business

 

Mendis knew he had some unfinished business in England. As previously mentioned (The Island – 23rd May, 2020), he could have won his side a famous victory nine years before, in the inaugural Prudential World Cup, but by knocking himself out via his own outer edge to a Thomson ‘screamer’ at a time when he had the Australian attack by its throat, he failed to fulfill that dream. That was when fate intervened and prevented what threatened to be a major tournament upset, when he and Sunil Wettimuny were involved in a furious attack on Ian Chappell’s men. Now at Lord’s, Mendis had Sunil’s younger brother for company and the stage could not have been better set for him to deliver a vintage ‘Mendis Special’. The wicket held no terrors; the bowling was near pedestrian; his team was well placed, and the man at the other end was looking like the Rock of Gibraltar by the minute! In short, Mendis could not have asked for a better setting to make the stage, indubitably his!

 

A man apart

 

England on the other hand seemed reminded that Mendis met his nemesis in 1975 whilst hooking. Thanks possibly to some old rope well swallowed, their bowlers determined they would give him a working over, with the short ball. Accordingly, Allott began with a hurried delivery that pitched and arrived head high to Mendis on an inconvenient off stump trajectory. Somewhat taken aback and definitely hurried, the batsman managed a reflex hook down to long leg – a shot of no great conviction. This encouraged all other leather flingers to smack their lips, dreaming of possibilities. Soon it was Agnew pitching short at Mendis. Back and across went the portly skipper, picking up the ball from his off and hooking it down to long leg for four. Agnew bowled slightly short again and Mendis – now going back, smoked it venomously wide of extra cover for four, to bring up the 300. With each shot he now played, Mendis assumed greater authority. Agnew next bowled a more fullish length and Mendis drilled it right back at him, like a blast from a cannon. It was a stinging blow and technically a chance, though Agnew had no hope in hell of catching it. A back footed square slash to a wide, short, Agnew delivery seemed almost violently dismissive. Everyone by now had come to realize they were watching a very special passage of play in the match, and a very special person enacting it. Everyone had also begun to realize that Duleep Mendis was a man apart, from those who preceded him.

But England hadn’t still lost hope. On came England’s man for all seasons – Ian Botham; now specifically tasked to remove this bothersome Mendis. It took no great intelligence to figure Botham would try and bounce out Mendis, and it took no even greater intelligence to figure, Mendis would accept the challenge. The crowd was expectant. The moment of truth had arrived.

 

Mendis versus Botham

 

A languid drive from Wettimuny to deep point brought him on to 154; the highest score by any batsman in his country’s first Test in England. It also brought Mendis on strike. Botham resuming, ran in and delivered. It was a mean bouncer on the off stump and curving in; head high and rising. There was a flurry of activity and in the blink of an eye the ball had disappeared into the Mound stand backward of square for six! The momentarily stunned crowd now broke into loud cheer. Not to be outdone, Wettimuny in the next over from Ellison, gloriously executed a cracking cover drive off his back foot to bring up his best score in Test cricket – 160 off 383 balls in 514 minutes of batting. The ball was now back in Botham’s hand for the following over.

Botham with his best days of pace behind him, was still, stubborn as a mule. He hadn’t probably heard that in the far outposts of the great empire, there were men who were no respecters of reputations. Possibly with such a bulldog mindset, Botham ran in and bounced again. Out came the hook shot in a flash; six more over square leg and into the Mound Stand! Although visibly wounded, Botham was still not ready to give up. Repositioning the two men he already had for the shot on the leg side boundary, he bounced one last time. It was on a middle and leg line and inconveniently close to Mendis’ head. Mendis undaunted, hooked yet again! The ball evaded the two men on the fence and ended up in the Mound stand for a third successive time. A visibly angry Botham was now seen muttering some ‘unprintables’ at his captain, for no doubt persisting with this daft idea of bouncing Mendis out. The Lankan skipper had now moved to 49, hammering three sixes off Botham in two overs and leaving no one in any doubt as to who was bossing the show in this particular contest. With each of his blows over the ropes, the crowd erupted, and with the third, the cheering rose to a crescendo. This was sensational stuff! Duleep Mendis the Lankan lion had bearded the British lion in its own den! At tea, Sri Lanka were 370 for four with Mendis on 52 and Wettimuny on 173.

 

Ran ‘em ragged

 

It took only 14 balls after tea for play to be suspended through bad light for 94 long minutes. Hence when play resumed, close of play was extended well beyond six o’clock. Between Mendis’ arrival and the eventual close of play, the score had surged by another 142 runs with Mendis making exactly one hundred of them. They came off 112 deliveries and mostly in fading light; sometimes almost too dark to recognize the dusky Sri Lankan skipper from 22 yards away! Thrice Mendis refused the offer of light and finally when he accepted, it was only after he had reached three figures. By now he had shown that between him and those that came before, there was a clear distinction. While most of the others applied grace and beauty from a bygone era around their technical correctness, Mendis’ method remained simple. He either blocked it or smashed it. And there was nothing vulgar about it at all. It was just that when in the mood he had this god given ability to reduce any bowling attack to pulp, without slogging. Simply put, Mendis ran England ragged. He was without doubt, the master of all he surveyed, that afternoon.


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Imran steals the show!

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(This article by The Island’s respected cricket columnist Rohan Wijeyaratne first appeared in these pages 16 years ago; on the 11th of June 2005. As World Cup winning former captain and current Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan has just visited the island, we reproduce this article in today’s edition)

In my youth – which is to say, quite a long time ago – I would often go to the YMCA canteen for a snack and a tea after whatever business that brought me to the Fort. Doing the same recently more for old times sake than anything else, I saw a familiar figure ahead of me heading in the same direction. Quickening my step and drawing abreast, I introduced myself to the gentleman concerned. He was none other than my old school English teacher, V. Thanabalasingham.

 

Not just a teacher, but an Institution

Those of you who may have passed through the portals of Ananda College during the 1960s and the early 70s and no doubt been well rounded in many ways, will admit to a man that when it came to the teaching of English, the name Thanabalasingham held no peer. In his prime, he was not just a brilliant teacher but an Institution. And volumes wouldn’t suffice to do him justice – such was the impact he made on all whom he touched, be it with the brilliance of Thackeray, Dickens, Chaucer or the Direct Method English Course that served as our bread and butter in English education at the time.

 

Another, from a different mould

Another teacher from an entirely different mould was Upali Ratnayake, now the Executive Director of CIMA. At the time he was introduced to us at the ‘A’ level stage, he appeared to our free spirits a cut above the rest. He acquired this status by doing exactly the opposite of what he was expected to do, which was to teach us English as a preparatory step towards an easier passage through University. Upali Ratnayake actually taught us nothing. Yet we learnt a good deal off him, discussing almost everything other than the subject he was paid for! His most endearing virtue was that he never spoke to us from a great height. And in that process, he taught us one of the most lasting lessons in life.

Several decades later, I nearly fell off my chair to receive a phone call from him inviting me to the BMICH on the 28th of May where Imran Khan and Kumar Sangakkara were due to speak at the CIMA Global Leaders Summit. The topics for discussion were “Passion for Perfection” and “Ordinary people in extraordinary acts.” The topics and the speakers seemed irresistible. And so I went.

 

What a speech!

I wasn’t disappointed. Neither were hundreds of others present. And predictably, Imran stole the show. Blessed with a presence that would have put any Grecian god to second class status, this tall, elegant and immensely handsome man spoke with such brilliance, clarity and articulation, the end result was as gripping as it was inspiring. In his wake, those who followed appeared cumbersome and dreary, almost like how Kenny Mackay would appear after the brilliance of a vintage Sobers or a Dexter! Kumar Sangakkara having to make do with less time than was his rightful share went largely unheard, tending to speak more to his fellow panelists than his audience. He will learn. As a probable hot contender to the top post after Atapattu, there will be many more occasions where he will be required to speak in public.

 

“Ambition must be upgraded, never downgraded”

Imran was of the view that all humans were endowed with limitless potential. Their limits if any, were often self imposed. Those who achieved extraordinary heights were those who dared to go beyond their self imposed limits. They thought big, dreamed big and did not allow their limitations to get in the way of achieving their dreams. He drew parallels from his own experiences in cricket, his cancer hospital project and his involvement in national politics to establish the point.

 

The four secrets

Starting with cricket, and drawing parallels with other legends including Zaheer Abbas, Imran stressed the need for a clear vision, the hunger to succeed, the willingness to sacrifice and self belief as being the four secrets to achieve one’s vision. Self belief was a factor which Abbas, despite all his God given gifts, had in very short supply. Imran, on the other hand, was full of it (sometimes foolishly!), because he never thought he ever could lose a game each time he stepped on to a cricket field. He gave many examples of it, including the victories against the might of the ‘invincible’ West Indians in 1986 against all odds. And that, despite having requested and got, ‘neutral’ umpires in a home series in Pakistan! He just wanted to make sure that when they won, there would be none to say that the umpires had anything to do with it!

Drawing from examples of his own life, Imran said that in all one’s life, one would hear others say why something cannot be done. That if accepted, would be the start of everyone’s downward spiral. Ambition he said, must be upgraded, never downgraded. And the more you pit your mind against the winds that resist you from reaching your ambition, the stronger your mind will become. Therefore, ambition must take precedence over everything. And towards achieving that, one should be willing to sacrifice anything. “Compromise” said Imran “for your vision, but never ever on your vision.” Great words!

 

Why the 3rd world is the 3rd world!

Relating what made him take to politics, Imran said that the problem with the third world was that the ruling elite would put itself above the law and deprive the ordinary folk of any justice. Hence his political movement was primarily meant to establish the rule of law in his country, where the weak and the strong were equal in the eyes of the law. “No society in the history of mankind has ever progressed without the rule of the law. The reason why the third world remained the third world was because it had very poor rule of the law. The elitist types did whatever they wished and got away with it, while the common man and the small and medium industrialist were all deprived of justice.” None could have spoken a truer word!

 

The ways of the mafia

Imran went on to say that when fighting for the rule of Law, one would be pitted against entrenched vested interests; the most powerful elite in the country. These were those who could buy justice. In Imran’s case, these were men who were also his good friends. Yet he preferred to take on the mantle of a social pariah instead, preferring to stand steadfast to his vision. The mafia usually reacts in such situations in either of two ways. They would either eliminate you or make you join the system. Just five months after his party was formed, he was offered 30 seats in Parliament out of 270. Imran refused, because he realized he had no chance of winning against entrenched political families that controlled his country. He knew the moment he joined them, he would need to compromise with his vision. So he refused, and got wiped out at the elections.

 

Refusing the Prime Ministership of Pakistan

When General Musharaff took over with Pakistan’s fourth military dictatorship in its brief history, he made all the right noises such as ridding the country of “sham” democracy and so on. No sooner Musharaff formed his own party, Imran was yet again invited, this time to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan. “But when I discovered that joining his coalition meant joining the biggest crooks in the country,” he had no difficulty in refusing. He was chided for his decision by many who argued that he could have joined and then fixed things up. But Imran said the decision was easy to make, as his vision was very clear. And it was one’s vision that decided when to compromise and when not to.

 

 

Imran’s vision

Imran’s vision was an independent and credible judicial system in Pakistan. So he asked himself the question, could General Musharaff afford an independent judiciary? The answer to him was obvious. If such a judicial system prevailed, most of the powerful men in his country would be tried for treason under article six of the country’s constitution. The sentence for treason was death. And he was therefore convinced that neither Musharaff, nor those around him could afford an independent and credible judicial system. And so, with his firm “No” Imran watched his party being destroyed yet again, to one seat, in parliament. This time it was by General Musharaff himself.

(To be continued tomorrow)

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Spinners give India early advantage in third Test

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Indian spinners shot England out for just 112 inside two sessions with Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel sharing the spoils after pacer Ishant Sharma opened the floodgates in his milestone 100th match on the opening day of the day-night third Test in Ahmedabad yesterday.

England were all out for 112 in 48.4 overs in the second session on a spin-friendly Motera pitch with Patel (21.4-6-38-6) grabbing his second five-for in his second Test while Ashwin (16-6-26-3) took three.

Openers Rohit Sharma (5) and Shubman Gill (0 ) negotiated five overs to take India to five for no loss at the dinner break.

Gill, however, survived after TV umpire ruled him not out in the third over after England claimed for a catch.

Ishant, only the second Indian fast bowler after Kapil Dev to play in 100 Tests, fittingly took India’s first wicket in the third over as he dismissed opener Dominic Sibley for nought.

Thereafter, it was all an Ashwin and Patel show as the duo bamboozled the England batsmen to complete the submission, except for the other opener Zak Crawley, who hit an eminently delectable half-century. Six English wickets fell in the second session.

England did not have any substantial partnership with the 47-run stand for the third wicket being the highest. They lost their last seven wickets for just 38 runs.

Crawley’s brilliance was, however, neutralised by the Indian spinners as England were left reeling at 81 for four going into tea after an exciting opening session in the pink ball Test.

Two wickets fell in as many overs after the resumption of the second session, with Ashwin and Patel taking one each, to reduce England to 81 for 6.

Ashwin sent Ollie Pope’s (1) off-stump cart-wheeling with a beauty of a delivery, bowling round the wicket, before Patel trapped Ben Stokes (6) LBW in the next over with a ball that spun in.

Jofra Archer (11) did a tad better as he hit a four in the second ball he faced and another boundary off Ashwin. But, Patel had him soon, cleaning up his off-stump to send England innings into a mess.

England’s rapid slide continued with Jack Leach edging one to the gully where Cheteshwar Pujara took a low catch off Ashwin, though the TV umpire took time to confirm the decision.

Crawley’s effort was the only silver lining for England. Having missed the first two Tests due to a freak wrist injury, the stylish right-hander’s driving was elegance personified as he hit ten boundaries during his 84-ball 53.

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Top players secure third round places 

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SSC Open Ranking Tennis

 

Thehan Wijemanne, Kavisha Ratnayake, Vibuda Wijebandara, Savith Weerasinghe, Kiran Viravanathan, Archana Lokuge advanced to the men’s singles third round at the SSC Open Ranking tennis tournament on Tuesday.

Some of the leading players fighting to improve on their impressive performances produced at the Tennis  Nationals and the Colombo Championships during recent weeks knocked out their opponents easily to secure third round places.

 

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