The inaugural World Cup in 1975 marked Sri Lanka’s entry on the ODI scene. Though they were heavily beaten by the West Indies and Pakistan, the neophyte islanders showed great grit against Australia, totalling 276/4 while facing the likes of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson in a steep chase of 329. The following edition in 1979 saw Sri Lanka’s maiden ODI victory, when they upstaged India by 47 runs at Old Trafford.
Sri Lanka attained full membership of the ICC in 1981, and duly played their first Test in February 1982, against England at the P. Sara Oval in Colombo. The two-match ODI series on this tour resulted in a 1-1 draw. In the next 12 months, Sri Lanka played three more ODI series (all three-match affairs overseas), losing each of them – they went down by 2-1 in Pakistan, 3-0 in India and 3-0 again in New Zealand.
The Lions played host to Australia three weeks after their New Zealand tour. The Australian squad, led by Greg Chappell, was bereft of four key players who had opted out – Kim Hughes, Geoff Lawson, Rod Marsh and Thomson. Chappell’s opposite number was Duleep Mendis, who had scored a crucial 64 in the aforesaid win over India. The four-match ODI series commenced on 13th April 1983 at the P. Sara Oval.
The new-ball pair of Ashantha de Mel and Vinothen John tested the Australian openers after Chappell won the toss. It was John (2/33) who provided the first breakthrough, having a struggling Steven Smith caught behind by Guy de Alwis with the score at 15. Graham Yallop joined Graeme Wood at this stage, and the pair added 72 for the second wicket before leg-spinner Somachandra de Silva bowled Wood (50).
Soon after, Yallop (39) was caught behind off the medium pace of 19-year-old Arjuna Ranatunga to make the score 103/3. This sparked a collapse of four wickets for 15 runs that put Sri Lanka firmly in control. De Alwis’ good day continued, as he caught David Hookes (for a duck) off Ranatunga (2/26) and Chappell off John. At the other end, de Silva (2/21) castled Allan Border to leave Australia wobbling at 118/6.
De Mel (2/35) became the fourth bowler to take two wickets, those of debutant wicketkeeper Roger Woolley and Tom Hogan, whose breezy 27 pushed Australia to 168/9 in the stipulated 45 overs. Woolley’s wicket was de Alwis’ fifth catch – he became the second wicketkeeper to pouch five catches in an ODI innings and was later named Man of the Match. Marsh was the first to do so, against England in 1981.
Sidath Wettimuny (37) and Susil Fernando (31) built a solid opening stand of 71, until the latter was stumped off Hogan’s left-arm spin. Roy Dias was out LBW to Chappell, and when Hogan bowled Wettimuny, Sri Lanka were 82/3. Australia ensured that they stayed alive – Hogan (3/27) bowled Mendis to get his third wicket, while John Maguire got rid of Ranjan Madugalle thanks to a running catch from Smith at third man.
At this stage, Sri Lanka still needed 57 from 63 balls with five wickets left. Ranatunga was sixth out to Rodney Hogg at 139, but that did not deter de Mel, who made 27 in as many balls before falling to Maguire. With the scores level in the 44th over, de Alwis became Hogg’s second victim. De Silva, who scored 15* in 13 balls, eventually hit the winning run to bring up Sri Lanka’s win by two wickets with five balls remaining.
The second match was played at the same venue three days later. Kepler Wessels, who replaced Smith at the top, scored a patient 39 after Sri Lanka won the toss. He was second out at 77, bowled by paceman Rumesh Ratnayake, who had earlier also accounted for Wood. Yallop hit an aggressive 59, and after his dismissal, Chappell (54*) and Hookes, who hit a quick 27, helped carry the total to 207/5 after 45 overs.
Wettimuny (56) and Fernando (34) ensured a robust platform once again, this time going on to share in a stand worth 101. However, both batsmen were dismissed in the 29th over – Wettimuny was bowled by off-spinner Bruce Yardley (3/28), who had come in for Maguire, before Fernando was run out. Yardley added two more wickets to his kitty in his following over, snaring Dias and Mendis to reduce Sri Lanka to 108/4.
With the required rate rising and the momentum shifting towards Australia, Sri Lanka needed another substantial partnership. Ranatunga (55* in 37 balls) and Madugalle (37 in 23 balls) delivered just that, putting on 69 for the fifth wicket at a fast clip. Ranatunga, who was named Man of the Match, stayed at the crease until Sri Lanka achieved a four-wicket win in 43.2 overs to take an unassailable 2-0 lead.
The first ever Test between the two countries was played at Kandy in the middle of the ODI series, in which Sri Lanka went down by an innings and 38 runs. Rain made its presence as the ODI leg resumed at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo – the third match was washed out with Australia at 194/3 to confirm a historic first series win for Sri Lanka, as was the fourth (curtailed to 30 overs), with Australia at 124/3.